TORONTO — A record-breaking number of participants has registered for this year’s JAPEX, Jamaica’s premier hospitality and tourism industry event that, for the first time ever, is going virtual in 2020.
Taking place today and tomorrow, JAPEX Live, the virtual edition, has already seen some 2,000 travel agents register and will include over 250 tour operators and 120 supplier country companies with approximately 220 delegates. As of Monday morning, over 1,200 buyer-seller appointments have already been scheduled.
Over the course of two days, participants will be able to ‘walk’ the exhibition floor, which this year has been laid out as a virtual map featuring resort area videos, virtual fam trips and exhibition ‘booths’ that come equipped with chat rooms. New this year is a Prize Centre where participants can rack up and track their credits to win prizes including all-inclusive stays in Jamaica.
Addressing international media this morning, Donovan White, Director of Tourism at the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) said that while his heart “bleeds” for not being able to address those in attendance personally, he is grateful that technology has allowed Jamaica’s reach to go beyond measure.
“I know it is for our greater good and though I am hopeful that this will be the only time this happens, I’m also very happy that you are here today,” said White. “It affirms why we truly believe Jamaica is, indeed, the Heartbeat of the World.”
Speaking with Travelweek, White says this hopeful outlook stems from positive winter bookings thus far. With most major airlines, including Air Canada and WestJet, expected to increase services as demand picks up, White estimates that Jamaica will see current levels reach around 45-50% of its normal winter activity.
“We expect our winter arrivals will be somewhere between 700,000 to 800,000 passenger arrivals, depending on weather and Covid. This number could go up to close one million, which would be around 60% of our usual outturn for the winter tourist season between December and April 30,” he says. “We’re very bullish about what winter will look like, given where we are now. It’s shaping up very well and we’re looking forward to some sort of reasonable outturn for winter.”
Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism, the Honourable Edmund Bartlett, reiterated these positive figures during this morning’s media briefing. Since reopening its borders to international travellers on June 15, Jamaica has welcomed over 211,000 passengers, with June to September earnings amounting to some US$231.9 million. Approximately 30% of tourism workers are back to work, and several hotels are reporting up to 60% occupancy among international and local guests, with numbers reaching to nearly 90% for holiday weekends.
“Through the end of September our year-over-year arrivals were down by slightly more than 60% but we are starting to see positive signs of rebound,” said Bartlett. “We’re very optimistic these trends will continue in the winter months.”
Bartlett highlighted various initiatives that have helped Jamaica in its recovery efforts, most recently the groundbreaking Jamaica Cares travel, protection and emergency service program. First announced on Oct. 26, Jamaica Cares is set to launch later this month and will include coverage for medical care, evacuation, field rescue, case management and patient advocacy in all emergency circumstances. With regards to COVID-19 specifically, the program will also cover testing for symptomatic travellers, quarantine isolation and evacuation, if necessary.
The insurance portion of the program, which travellers will be required to opt in for, was first reported to come at a cost of approximately $40. But this morning, Bartlett said that the $40 fee may not be the final cost at launch, following some tweaks to the program.
“A lot of hard work is going on to make sure that the most affordable package is put together for the market,” he said. “When Jamaica Cares was created, at the heart of the solution was for destinations worldwide to restore traveller confidence, speed the recovery of the tourism industry and provide a traveller protection solution that would make destinations more resilient today and in the face of future disruptions. Our top priority was, and still is, instilling traveller confidence.”
Bartlett also had plenty of praise for Jamaica’s innovative ‘Resilient Corridors,’ which allow the destination to manage exposure between international visitors and its tourism workers and residents. A joint collaboration between Jamaica’s Ministries of Tourism and Health & wellness, these corridors that run along Jamaica’s most popular tourism regions now include many COVID-19-compliant attractions that have been authorized for visits by tourists.
According to Bartlett, since the corridors were put in place there have been no known cases of COVID-19 transmissions in these areas.
“We have smartly involved our reopening stages to first require travellers to stay on their resort grounds, and are now giving them the freedom to visit attractions within the Resilient Corridors, using approved transportation,” he said. “We have been working tirelessly and efficiently to provide a Jamaica that is safe and enjoyable for all in recovery and beyond.”
Stay tuned for additional coverage from JAPEX, including more from our exclusive interview with Director of Tourism Donovan White, in tomorrow’s edition of Travelweek Daily.