SEATTLE, Washington — Tourism is an important sector for Jamaica. The warm waters and soft sands of the Caribbean beaches have drawn in countless visitors over the years. During winter holidays, hotel rooms are fully booked and cruise ships continuously dock in the bays so travelers can explore the palm tree beaches. For many, Jamaica exists as a lush tropical paradise. However, on the other side of the resort walls, a very different reality exists for locals.
Financial Instability in Jamaica
Jamaica has a population of 2.93 million that is strained by a high 19% poverty rate. Despite being a middle-income economy, Jamaica struggles with high public debt, low economic growth and frequent natural disasters.
In 2013, the Jamaican government initiated the Economic Reform Programme (ERP) to try and alleviate the financial burdens placed on the local population. The program was designed with the hope of stabilizing the country’s economy, reducing its debt and fostering internal growth.
Tourism in Jamaica has become a significant part of this program. In 2018, the Ministry of Tourism aimed to specifically cultivate the tourism economy, claiming that these efforts would stimulate wide-scale economic growth through foreign exchange while also creating more jobs for native residents. The ministry’s goal was to garner 5 million visitors to the island by 2021 and generate $5 billion in tourism earnings. The revenue from tourism services would then produce 125,000 jobs and 15,000 new hotel rooms to accommodate even more tourism.
The Effect of COVID-19 in the Tourism Industry
The Ministry of Tourism’s plans came to a halt due to the global outbreak of COVID-19. On March 21, 2020, the Jamaican government announced a new curfew and all ports and airports closed to incoming traffic for 14 days. However, the quarantine lasted much longer than initially expected, with Jamaica not reopening its borders until June 15, 2020.
Regardless, the timing of the reopening has been criticized by many. Residents fear that reopening the borders increases the risk of a surge of new cases. Despite this, Jamaica has permitted entry not only to returning citizens but also to tourists.
Soon after allowing flights into the country, Jamaica quickly identified a handful of new COVID-19 cases. Approximately half of the cases were from residents traveling back to the island, while the rest came from visiting tourists. This rise of COVID-19 cases only increased concern over the opened borders and what might happen as more people begin to come to the island.
The Future of Tourism in Jamaica
Tourism in Jamaica is a vital part of cultivating the local economy and bettering the local quality of life. As a country that relies on tourism, threats such as COVID-19 have the potential to ruin not only the country’s economic progress but also its future plans. As a result, the Jamaican government has instilled new rules and regulations to minimize the virus’ resurgence. While the government opened up the Island to tourism, all visitors must undergo COVID-19 testing upon arrival and abide by the curfew. All public beaches in Jamaica also opened on June 7, but with strict social-distancing orders.
The pandemic has profoundly impacted the world of tourism. However, Jamaica is working to support the heart of its economy while providing aid to its people amid the global crisis. By reopening its tourism services despite the health risks, the island can start welcoming visitors back before too many businesses begin to struggle due to the lack of global currency. Through its new regulations and checks, the government is ensuring that tourism in Jamaica remains a safe and thriving business for both tourists and locals.