TORONTO — With the winter travel season fast approaching, the Jamaica Tourist Board hosted its first-ever Virtual Product Showcase to spread the word that the island is officially back on stream and open to Canadians.
Jamaica, which is offering flights from eight Canadian gateways (Calgary, Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Halifax, Moncton, and St. John’s), is anticipating a healthy and robust winter season, with many resorts, attractions and ground transportation services resuming operations with health and safety protocols in place.
A total of 488 Canadian travel agents registered for yesterday’s event, which featured over 30 top suppliers, including Air Canada Vacations, Sunwing, Transat, WestJet Vacations, RIU Hotels & Resorts, Sandals, Iberostar Hotels & Resorts, Bahia Principe Hotels & Resorts and more. Agents were able to participate in several breakout sessions and connect with suppliers directly, with several prizes up for grabs throughout the course of the event.
Angella Bennett, Regional Director of Tourism-Canada for the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), opened the show with a warm welcome to agents and participants.
“The tourism sector is one of the industries that has been the hardest hit in this pandemic and we are committed as a tourism board to working very, very closely with you to restart travel to Jamaica,” she said. “Our Jamaica tourism sector is a source of pride for our country and we will continue to stand alongside you to get you through this period and back to business.”
Bennett went on to read an official statement from Jamaica’s Director of Tourism Donovan White, who said that yesterday’s one-of-a-kind event allows Jamaica’s tourism industry to bring together hundreds of Canadian travel advisors from across the country.
“Since the start of the global pandemic last year, the travel industry has been turned upside down. And although we don’t know when it will get passed fully, we know that we can’t do without you,” said White in his statement. “The return of Canadian tourism is welcome news for our country’s hotel attraction partners and transportation suppliers and policy workers. On behalf of Jamaica, I want to thank you for your unwavering support as we have navigated the effects of the pandemic together.”
Travelweek spoke with several suppliers during breakout sessions, here’s what they had to say:
Transat: “We’re ready to hit the ground running”
Transat is set to resume flight operations on July 30, a major milestone that Susan Kooiman, Sr. Business Development Representative-Key Accounts, described as a long time coming. Kooiman told Travelweek that the company has “great product in the system” for agents to book and that its groups department, in particular, has been very busy booking and coding for 2022.
When asked how Jamaica factors into its winter lineup, Kooiman said that Air Transat has long since regarded the destination as a trusted and valued partner.
“We have our flights from Toronto and from Montreal, which we’re starting in November. As we go through our season we’re going to pick up the days to about three times a week. And we have some great hotel partners that we have supported and they supported us throughout the years, so we continue that partnership because it’s very important to us,” she said.
And what about the pent-up demand that the industry is anticipating? Is Transat ready to accommodate the surge in bookings?
“Absolutely,” added Kooiman. “We’re ready to hit the ground running and we’re very excited for it. Our travel partners have been waiting patiently and we’re so excited to start and get back to it.”
Sunwing: “The role of a travel agent is going to be very important”
Sunwing’s Dave Wright, Director of Sales, Ontario/Atlantic Canada is also excited for winter, telling Travelweek that he’s anticipating a “very, very busy” season for Jamaica and all other sun destinations and that the team is seeing this uptick already.
“Comparing to a couple of years ago, we’re seeing a lot of agencies that are up 60% higher than where they were two years ago for future bookings, say for Nov. 1 onward, which is very promising” said Wright. “Some destinations are filling up very quickly, Jamaica for sure is doing well. We see every booking that comes through these days and the number of Christmas and New Year holidays that are being booked is amazing.”
Wright also noted that groups business has been huge – and not just for weddings.
“We’re seeing a lot of families who maybe haven’t been able to get together for the last year and a half, who want to get together and do a trip. So that’s a big part of our business, in addition to individual bookings.”
As bookings pick up, Wright added that Sunwing has made a point to celebrate the successes of its most loyal travel agent partners, many of whom have been “laying low” for the last year.
“Now they’re coming back and we’re always celebrating their first booking in this new world, and it’s just really nice to see,” he said. “It’s going to be a great winter and the role of a travel agent is going to be very important. Consumers are going to want their help to navigate and make their trips as memorable as they possibly can.”
Wright also confirmed that Sunwing’s winter product lineup, including in Jamaica, is very comparable to pre-COVID times. This season, Sunwing will fly to Jamaica’s MBJ from 10 Canadian gateways (Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Moncton, St. John’s and Halifax) and offer 54 resorts to choose from in Negril, Montego Bay, Runaway Bay and Ocho Rios.
Air Canada Vacations: “Our bookings are coming in strong daily”
Mary Santonato, Air Canada Vacations’ Manager, National Accounts, told Travelweek that the company is expecting a “very, very good winter,” with sales for 2022 well over 2019 numbers. Jamaica, in particular, is expected to perform well as it serves as one of ACV’s biggest and most important destinations.
“Our bookings are coming in strong daily and we’re seeing some really great days and continue to see growth almost weekly,” she said. “The wait times are long however, at least where the bookings are coming in people are patient, which we’re happy about.”
When asked whether all of ACV’s Jamaica product is back online, XX said it will be a gradual ramping up.
“For all the hotels that are open and operational, we definitely are using them but we get notices on a regular basis for delays and what not. But I can confidently say that our Jamaica product is currently robust heading into the winter season.”
Iberostar Hotels & Resorts: “We’re seeing increased demand out in Eastern Canada”
With three properties in Jamaica (Iberostar Rose Hall Beach, Iberostar Rose Hall Suites and Iberostar Grand, all of which are located side by side in Montego Bay), Iberostar Hotels & Resorts is anticipating a busy winter season on the island. Jason Gignac, Business Development Manager, Travel Agency Sales (AB, SK, MB) at Iberostar Group, told Travelweek that the company is seeing increased demand out in Eastern Canada and that it’s starting to “trickle” throughout Western Canada as well.
When asked whether all three properties are ready to welcome back Canadians in terms of health and safety, Gignac said “absolutely.” He referenced Iberostar’s new ‘How We Care’ program, which includes over 300 health and safety measures, as well as on-site PCR testing for guests available for US$150.
Gignac is encouraging travel agents to learn more about Iberostar’s health and safety measures at iberostaragents.ca.
Jamaica’s latest entry updates
All people arriving in Jamaica at this time are subject to quarantine, based on their assigned traveller category. For non-residents visiting Jamaica for tourism purposes and staying at approved ‘resilient corridor’ accommodation, they must undergo a health screening and risk assessment and may be required to be tested at the airport upon arrival or at their designated facility. Those not required to be tested on arrival will be allowed to go to their hotel/resort under the ‘Stay in Resilient Corridor’ control measure, which states that tourists must remain at their hotel/resort within the corridor for the duration of their stay.
For fully vaccinated non-residents visiting Jamaica for tourism purposes and not staying within the resilient corridor, the home quarantine period has been reduced to eight days following the date of landing on the island. Those who have not been vaccinated or not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will be placed under the home quarantine measure for a period of 14 days following the date of arrival in Jamaica.
For more details click here.
Other notable updates on the ground in Jamaica include increased capacity for weddings to 100 guests. Hotels, resort cottages and attractions not located within the Resilient Corridors can also now receive guests once they have their JTB licence, TPDco’s COVID-19 Compliance Certificate and obey protocols.
Jamaica currently considers anyone who has received two doses of an approved COVID-19 vaccine to be fully vaccinated, regardless of whether they have received different brands of vaccine.
Air Canada and WestJet are currently flying into Montego Bay from YYZ, while Transat, Swoop and Sunwing are scheduled to resume service in the coming weeks. For the winter season starting Nov. 1, Air Canada will fly from Toronto and Montreal, WestJet from Toronto, Calgary and Winnipeg, Swoop from Toronto and Hamilton, and Sunwing from Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, Edmonton, St. John, Ottawa, Hamilton, Winnipeg and Calgary.