Mon | Nov 30, 2020

What about the south coast? - Tourism operators left in the dark, anxious to reopen

Published:Wednesday | July 8, 2020 | 12:23 AMJanet Silvera/Senior Gleaner Writer


Tourism stakeholders on the island’s south coast are sitting in limbo, a week after a June 30 deadline for the Government to announce the second phase of reopening plans for the sector.

The situation has left them unsure of when they will be able to commence bookings, even as potential visitors knock at their doors.

The country’s north coast reopened to tourists on June 15.

“We have guests calling from overseas repeatedly about our opening dates along the south coast, and we are starting to look like we don’t know what’s going on in our own country,” Jason Henzell, Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association area chapter counsellor, told The Gleaner. “I am in support of the country opening in phases, as I wanted the south coast to be more cautious, but now I’m starting to feel like the south coast is being taken for granted and don’t play an important role in our tourism landscape.”

He said he is willing to propose and work to ensure that Treasure Beach in St Elizabeth becomes a model for how a community can prepare itself for reopening by having bar owners, restaurant operators, boat captains and even taxi drivers wear masks, have handwashing stations and respect the protocols.

The hotelier, who operates a number of villas and the iconic Jake’s Hotel, has been intimately involved in Treasure Beach, which has earned a reputation of being a model for community tourism.

His comments were echoed by other sector interests. Their wish is to reopen on a phased basis as of Wednesday, July 15. However, they would like to be given adequate notice to prepare, just as it was with the north coast.

Blue Marlin Villas’ Sandy Tatham said all their gear was in place, staff sensitisation had been done, and she was expecting a group to arrive at her property by July 17. However, the uncertainty is a bother for her and eight employees who are anxious to return to work.

Rebecca Wiersma of Treasure Tours, who has 30 persons waiting to return to work, said she also has a number of tentative bookings, which cannot be finalised due to the uncertainty.

She described the situation as being rough, with staff keen to go back to work, “obviously taking all the precautions”.

“Our buses are ready, our villas are being inspected, and I have several guests who want to come,” she told The Gleaner.

Questions sent to Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett have remained unanswered and our news team has been unable to reach him over the last two days.