Angella Bennett

“We have lost a critical market this season”: JTB’s Angella Bennett

TORONTO —   Like all tourist destinations, Jamaica has had a tough year, with COVID-19 cases, closed borders and an unprecedented decline in tourist arrivals.

But the island regained some footing last June when it reopened its borders to international travellers. This helped the destination achieve a respectable 13,000 in Canadian arrivals from January 2020 to November 2020, with more anticipated in the coming months following the recent announcement that Jamaica had significantly expanded PCR testing capacity to accommodate travellers from Canada specifically.

Things were looking up until the bombshell announcement made by Prime Minister Trudeau on Jan. 29 that all flights to the Caribbean and Mexico – on all four of Canada’s major airlines: Air Canada, WestJet, Sunwing and Transat – will be suspended through April 30, 2020 as part of ongoing efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 and its new variants.

The news sent shockwaves throughout the travel industry and hit Jamaica particularly hard, as it relies heavily on the Canadian market to support its tourism sector. As the island’s largest economic engine, tourism in Jamaica employs 170,000 workers and impacts an additional 120,000 jobs from other industries. As such, it fuels more than one-third of the country’s economy.

Travelweek sat down with Angella Bennett, Regional Director-Canada for the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) yesterday, Feb. 3, to ask how the sun cancellations will impact the island, and what her message would be to Canadian travel agents during this particularly challenging time. Here’s what she had to say:


Can you put into perspective how this announcement will impact Jamaica’s tourism industry in the short- and long-term? Just how significant will the impact be?

Jamaica is a small, tourism-dependant country and the winter season is a critical time period for us; the large majority of North American visitors typically travelling between November and April. Canada is the second largest source market for Jamaica and the suspension of flights until April 30 will undoubtedly have a dramatic impact on our tourism industry.

We have lost a critical market this season and Canada’s new travel restrictions will create a ripple effect that will have both short- and long-term consequences throughout the Caribbean. The loss of airlift will impact hotel partners, attractions, transportation providers, hospitality workers and thousands of workers employed in the tourism sector and related industries.

It is worth nothing that Jamaica’s domestic tourism market has been extremely vibrant throughout the of the COVID-19 pandemic, with local residents supporting the industry as much as possible during this difficult time. Weekend traffic from the local market is steady and gives hotels 40 to 50% occupancy, with those rates climbing up to 60% over the holiday weekends.


With vaccination programs happening worldwide, do you think there’s a chance for Jamaica to ‘make up’ for the absence of Canadians later on in the year? 

We are pleased to see that Canada and the U.S. are proactively working to implement their domestic vaccination programs and we’re hopeful that this will lead to a softening of the restrictions on international travel. That said, there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the measures that the federal government has implemented to limit international travel. We do not anticipate a large increase in Canadian travellers into Jamaica while Canada’s mandatory PCR testing and 14-day quarantine rules are in place, as these strict requirements are a major expense and a barrier for those who are interested in travelling abroad.

As inoculation programs continue, it is our hope that we will start seeing a significant level of vaccinations among the populations within our major markets later on this spring. We anticipate a slow return to travel from Canada, with an uptick in visitors in Winter 2021/22 and a full recovery in 2023 to 2024.

What’s your message to Canadian travel agents at this time who are in the process of refunding and rebooking their clients?

Agents are working on the frontlines of this pandemic and they continue to provide Canadians with incredible support and guidance in response to the rapidly changing travel landscape. The tourism industry is incredibly resilient, and we want you to remain optimistic as we look towards the future recovery period. All of us at the JTB are hoping and praying that these new protocols will swiftly and effectively manage the COVID situation in Canada so that we can return to a sense of normalcy and reinstate airlift to the Caribbean as soon as possible.

From the outset of the pandemic, Jamaica has been a global leader in managing and mitigating the spread of COVID-19. We have done everything we can to adapt and react to Canada’s travel protocols and we want agents to know that Jamaica is ready and prepared to welcome your clients for a safe, secure and seamless travel experience once the time is right.

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