Jamaica will receive around one million visitors this year, that is, 35% the number of arrivals in 2019, said Donovan White, the director of tourism with the Jamaica Tourist Board. “The pandemic was one of the most, if not the most devastating thing in our lifetime,” he said. Jamaica closed its borders on March 21st and reopened on June 15.
Per UN’s World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), 59 nations in the world derive more than 20% of their export income from tourism. The health crisis brought them “to their knees,” White said. Jamaica gets 54% of its export income from tourism.
The Island also derives 9.8% of its GDP directly from tourism, If other indirect workers and firms are entered into the calculation, 34% of the country´s GDP is tied to hospitality, White stated.
With the June 15 opening, the Island is slowly regaining traction. “We are, at the end of August, with 10% to 12% of the usual arrival numbers. You can imagine,” was his reaction to the magnitude of the problem.
But the Jamaican government is not in lamentation mode. “We are resilient people. We are doing all things necessary to engage our partners, to maintain an interaction, so the day people begin to travel, Jamaica will be one of their top choices.”
A strategy to refloat
Jamaica developed a digitally-centered marketing strategy. The Ministry of Tourism and White´s office have led three campaigns since the pandemic started.
The first, focused on empathizing with travelers around the world, sending a solidarity message which wished for a better future.
The campaign soon transitioned to speak to the millions that were locked-in but wanted positive things to think about. The marketing team developed then positive, stay-at-home plans. Tourism authorities partnered with DJs, top chefs, and other professionals to offer online culinary experiences, yoga, and exercise sessions. “We wanted to take our culture in bite-size moments to stay connected. To let our audiences access a piece of Jamaica.”
As the country opened, the strategy shifted its focus again. “The content series “Chill Like a Jamaican” is the island’s invitation to the world to slow down and enjoy island time, first digitally and then by visiting Jamaica,” the Board said in a press release at the launch of the campaign.
“With consumers needing a break from this quarantine, Jamaican celebrities and local tourism leaders have come together to show fans how to “chill” with a Jamaican twist on food, fitness, cocktails, and more. The series follows Olympic Gold medalist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Price, Master Blender Joy Spence of Appleton Estate, Pepa of the Grammy award-winning duo Salt-n-Pepa, Miss Jamaica World and Miss Jamaica Universe Yendi Phillips, and Dancehall artist, BayC as they “chill,” the press release explained.
The campaign shows the outdoors, highlighting the country’s pristine natural settings, White said.
Jamaica also partnered with Google to use technology to pivot marketing. The Tourism Office now keeps a close eye on Search Engine Optimization tools to take their message to as many viewers in as many different markets as possible, White said.
Protocols in action
“Whilst we ponder navigating this new space, we are working together to recover,” the Director said. “We brought minds and hearts together to prepare the destination to come out of the crisis.”
The Ministry of Tourism and the private sector swiftly developed health and safety protocols to mitigate the spread of the Coronavirus and became one of the first countries to publish detailed, world-class standard, guidelines, endorsed by the UNWTO.
Then they launched a training program to implement the protocol. To reopen, both visitors and local staff had to follow strict health recommendations.
The Island’s hotels implemented practices such as digital check-in, hand sanitizer stations, elimination of self-service at buffets, digital or single-use menus, and social distancing markers throughout the properties.
“Protocols are not static.” To prevent contagion, they have already been modified in several directions. Donovan White announced that in the coming weeks there will be a significant change to health procedures. He did not disclose details but described the shift as “dramatic.”
Difficult as conditions are in the region, the Director of Tourism expects to see a rise of Latin American visitors in 2021, a consequence of pre-pandemic trends. The interest people have in returning to the beautiful beaches and culture-rich cultural places make him confident. “Appetite will come back,” he concluded.