JTB USA, Canada fight to keep tourism pipeline open
Four months ago, Jamaica’s robust tourist industry had virtually come to a grinding halt. Prior to coronavirus, the island’s fragile tourist trade was enjoying consecutive quarters of growth. The year 2019 was remarkable for visitor arrivals and the month of December 2019 was record-breaking with 281,115 stopover arrivals to the island, representing an increase of 7.6 per cent over the previous December.
Suddenly there was an unwelcomed guest – coronavirus – and it continues to take a toll on the industry. The latest arrival figures for July 2020 point to an alarming but expected decline of 84.5 per cent over the corresponding period last year, with only 41,941 arrivals on the island, down from well over a quarter million last year. Jamaica is fighting back bravely, and in the aftermath of the lockdown, the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) in the Americas continues to promote the destination with back-breaking efforts despite new challenges for tourism every day.
There has been a steady resumption of air service into Kingston and Montego Bay from key markets – New York/Newark, Miami, Orlando, Atlanta, Charlotte, Baltimore, Boston, Dallas, Houston and Toronto. United, Southwest, Caribbean Airlines, JetBlue, Delta, Spirit and American Airlines are all back at some level of operation.
Most hoteliers say short-term bookings are only at a trickle, but gradually building. And concerns about an increase in COVID-19 infections in parts of Jamaica is already triggering cancellations.
“The revitalisation of travel to Kingston continues to be a challenge, and most properties in the city are currently operating at about 10 to 15 per cent occupancy levels,” Chris Jarrett, Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association president of the Kingston area chapter, told The Gleaner. “And we just lost a booking for 93 room nights in Montego Bay this week due to the COVID spike following on nomination day and election campaigning. But generally, Montego Bay is performing much better than Kingston,” he added.
The JTB’s overseas marketing team is a well-oiled machine that is now tasked with responding to the numerous new challenges that come with marketing Jamaica during the pandemic.
The marketing teams fully grasp the devastating effect that the fallout is having on thousands of tourists with vacations and weddings planned. The impact is also being felt by various related sectors on the island – airports, resort and attraction workers, ground transportation providers, car rental companies, farmers who supply hotels, cambio operators and restaurants, bars and other places of entertainment. With this in mind, the marketing representatives across the Americas, including Canada, the United States and Latin America, have been working relentlessly to build and sustain travel when possible, and to amplify brand awareness for Destination Jamaica throughout the pandemic.
“Once we received word that Jamaica was closing her borders and travel would come to a halt, we immediately devised a plan to keep the brand alive with our travel agents, tour operators and our airline partners, and we continue our efforts daily, depending on prevailing conditions,” Donnie Dawson, deputy director of tourism for the Americas, told The Gleaner. “It is important for us to maintain our strong travel trade relationships and keep Jamaica top of mind during the pandemic,” Dawson added.
Jamaica maintains relationships with more than 40,000 high-yielding travel agents across the USA and Canada, and the engagement with them began immediately, first with providing updated information on Destination Jamaica to help determine if travel clients should reschedule, cancel or seek refunds. The next step for the JTB marketing reps was to engage the thousands of agents in novel ways to keep the brand alive and jumping with excitement.
In the absence of in-person visits to travel agencies, service calls became telemarketing wellness calls. Trade seminars morphed into online training workshops. What would have normally been ‘thank-you functions’ for the trade turned into ‘Lively Chit Chat Zoom Calls’. Monthly webinars are now conducted biweekly, monthly eNewsletters are now produced weekly for increased connectivity, and social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn are now more important than ever to reach almost 40,000 weekly, with further amplification from email blasts.
Additionally, the JTB utilised an elaborate and exciting audiovisual musical journey that chronicles the development of mento, ska, rocksteady and reggae as a cultural magnet. Competitions have been launched across key markets to place focus on Jamaica, and these include the Treasure Hunt Trivia Series and the Picture Me in Jamaica Photo Contest. And for Travel Agent Day several weeks ago, the JTB partnered with Grace Foods USA to create a Jamaica Quiz Challenge. Successful participants won Grace food baskets loaded with Jamaican treats.
“Our activities have increased greatly during the COVID-19 pandemic, and in fact, we’ve never been busier, and our team continues to be the industry leader creating a kaleidoscope of activity,” Phillip Rose, JTB’s regional director for the Northeast, revealed. “The global market has a big appetite for Jamaica and we continue to answer the call despite unprecedented times.”