Tourism sector workers upbeat as COVID-19 vaccination begins
President of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), Clifton Reader, has expressed delight that tourism workers have now begun to get vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, as Jamaica’s tourism industry slowly tries to regain ground lost since the pandemic hit the island’s shores in March 2020.
A vital part in the country’s economic development, tourism earnings have plunged since then, and remain far below pre-COVID-19 predictions for this time of year.
But following the April 8 announcement that the Government has begun scheduling vaccination appointments for workers in tourism and other sectors, tourism workers started taking advantage of the opportunity during the vaccination blitz last Saturday, turning out in their numbers, especially at the Bahia Principe Hotel in Runaway Bay, St Ann, and at the convention centre in Rose Hall, Montego Bay.
Several workers employed to Bahia were among the scores of persons who turned out on Saturday at the start of a three-day vaccination blitz scheduled for St Ann, Trelawny, St James and Westmoreland.
According to Reader, who visited the convention centre site, “quite a few” tourism workers got vaccinated there also.
“I am definitely pleased, because even if you have one more worker than normal getting vaccinated, it is one more person being protected. So, we’re really pleased that the Government has allowed people to come out,” Reader told The Gleaner.
Vaccination for tourism workers was originally set by Government to begin in July, but after lobbying by the JHTA, the schedule was revived to an earlier date.
“And we have to be grateful for that,” Reader, who is also managing director of Moon Palace Jamaica, in Ocho Rios, commented.
Currently, some hotels along Jamaica’s north coast have occupancy levels of up to 70 per cent, Reader revealed.
The JHTA boss wasn’t the only one happy for the revived schedule. At Bahia, some workers were not just delighted to make use of the opportunity to get vaccinated, but used the occasion to urge their fellow sector workers to follow suit.
Collete Walker-Hopkins, the hotel’s assistant housekeeping manager, who has been at the property since it opened 14 years ago, was the first worker at Bahia to get the jab.
“I came to get my vaccine today because I see the importance of it, because we have to interact with the guests on a daily basis; and because we do that, we come in close contact with them. So, it’s very important for me to go ahead and be an example, to show them (co-workers) that taking this vaccine is what we normally do as a child growing up,” Walker-Hopkins told The Gleaner a few minutes after being vaccinated.
Expressing relief that she has finally gotten her first shot, Walker-Hopkins added: “I would encourage you (co-workers) to come on and do it, because you are mixing with the guests and you have a very important role in the company, so when you take this vaccine you are protecting yourself even more.”
Another long-standing worker, Herbert Gooden, also encouraged others in the sector to take the vaccine.
Gooden admitted that he was worried initially about possible side effects of the drug, but decided to “brave it out” because he believes there is more good to it than bad.
ENCOURAGE ALL TO GET VACCINATED
“I would encourage all to do it because it means safety,” Gooden said.
Meanwhile, Adolfo Fernandez, managing director for Bahia Principe Resort Jamaica, said he expects the majority of the 500 workers currently employed to the hotel to be vaccinated over the weekend.
“I am hopeful we will get 50 to 60 per cent of our staff vaccinated by the end of the weekend, which is fantastic and will help not only our staff to keep safe, but also our visitors and guests,” Fernandez pointed out.
Fernandez said the recovery of the island’s tourism sector is dependent on all tourism workers getting vaccinated.
“The help and support of the Government is key in this moment and hopefully, we will see the light at the end of the tunnel very soon, thanks to this vaccination programme,” he added.
Health and Wellness Minister Christopher Tufton, who toured the vaccination sites last Saturday, noted that it was important that tourism sector workers get vaccinated at this time.
“From the perspective of the exposure of tourism workers to foreigners who come in as our guests, it’s important to protect them and to get the market to appreciate that they are protected, but they will also be protecting those who come,” Tufton said. “So, it is a good decision, I think at this stage, to begin to start looking at certain industries and giving them that support, and tourism represents that; so, we hope that as many tourism workers as possible will come out and get the jab.”