By Fernando Davis
With cruise vessels expected to be roaming the high seas again next year, Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett says both visitor arrivals and earnings should return to some semblance of respectability.
Bartlett, in a recent interview, said this should be very good news, particularly for the small and medium-sized cruise-dependent entities, many of which have been reeling since the absence of the ships from early March.
“As we look outward to 2021, and based on the level of air seat commitment as well as cruise porting schedule which is still with the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ), we are looking at in the region of 2.6 million visitors, assuming of course that our cruise schedule does get started in 2021 and maintains the level of forecast that they have provided to the PAJ,” the minister said.
“That would see us having a huge jump, an 87 per cednt increase from 2020. That would be a huge turnaround experience coming from negative 67 per cent to a positive 87 per cent. That would be a massive turnaround in performance.”
Bartlett said that 2022 is when the country should start climbing back to the pre-COVID numbers, adding that, barring the unknown, Jamaica could be back up to around 3.6 million visitors by then and also about US$2.8 billion in earnings.
“That’s what the outlook looks like,” he added. “I will however caveat to say that everything is subjected to our external partners, air seat capacity, which is chief among them, and of course the restart of the cruise industry, which is critical in our minds, especially for the small and medium-sized entities within the tourism space and in terms of driving revenue on the ground.”
The tourism minister said that, “putting it into context a little” while providing some optimism as well, based on surveys the tourism ministry has gleaned from hoteliers, for winter 2021, which runs from December 1 to April 30, 2021, the country could realise earnings for the accommodation sector of up to US$762 million.
He added that the impact on the sector over the past eight months has been very severe to the point where many stakeholders have been uncertain about the future.
“We have been doing a good job in controlling the things we can control,” Bartlett added. “The projections are also looking good so we have to continue putting our best foot forward and continue to maintain best practices.”
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on October 30, in addition to lifting its no-sail order, which would have expired on October 31, also released a list of detailed requirements that could put ships back in operation in the coming months.
The agency’s 40-page directive requires a phased approach to restarting cruises. Companies must first demonstrate they can successfully protect crew members from COVID-19, then conduct simulated cruises with volunteer passengers, then obtain a ‘conditional sailing certificate’ from the CDC. Testing requirements — PCR testing for all passengers and crew on embarkation and disembarkation days — go beyond the protocols companies have proposed.
Most cruise companies — Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean Group, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, MSC Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line and Virgin Voyages — have canceled all cruises leaving from U.S. ports for the remainder of the year.