Like many others, I love to travel and, typically, as soon as I get back from one trip, set my sights on the next destination on my list and start counting down the days.
As travel editor at the Vancouver Courier newspaper, a board member of the B.C. branch of the Travel Media Association of Canada, and a member of the Society of American Travel Writers, travel is a big part of my life, just as it is with friends and family and the many other travel writers I’ve come to know over the years.
But, with the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve found ourselves in an unprecedented situation in which travel as we all know it has been grounded. With no set date as to when we might once again begin packing too many clothes for that weekend away or trip to warmer climes.
In an effort to catch a glimpse of future travel trends and garner information about just when some destinations might once again be open for business, I reached out to travel experts and tourism bureaus across Canada and the globe for answers to five similar questions.
And while none can predict the future, all are hopeful travel will soon resume. But, how exactly that will look is anyone’s guess.
If you are part of a destination management organization or represent a property and want to share your thoughts, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Five questions with Angella Bennett, regional director of the Canadian office of the Jamaica Tourist Board.
How do you measure tourism numbers for your destination?
Jamaica evaluates international visitors on an annual basis, with the majority of tourists arriving from four primary markets: the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom and Europe.
Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, the destination showed very strong numbers in the beginning of 2020 and welcomed more than o million international visitors to the island in January and February.
How has COVID-19 impacted tourism in your region?
Tourism in Jamaica is all encompassing; it is the most significant area of our economy and the industry impacts the life of everyone on the island. Tourism accounts for nine per cent of the GDP.
And while the effects of COVID-19 are being felt across the globe, the pandemic has had a particularly devastating impact on Jamaica because we rely so heavily on tourism.
Jamaica confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on March 9 and the island’s borders were closed to inbound travellers at the end of March and remain closed until further notice in order to contain the spread of the virus.
With the country closed to incoming arrivals, resorts, hotels and attractions have been forced to close temporarily. Almost 10 per cent of the country’s workforce is employed directly by the tourism sector. To date, 75 per cent of tourism employees — approximately 120,000 people — have been impacted by the crisis.
Do you believe the virus has changed the way people are looking at travel?
Absolutely. I think the current limitations on movement have given people the opportunity to feel truly grateful for the amazing experiences that travel can create — we will not be taking our ability to hop on a plane for granted ever again.
This period of social distancing is a time of reflection and dreaming of future travel, and checking off those “bucket list” destinations and imagining all the places we want to explore.
While some people may be more anxious to travel internationally in the immediate future, I think the majority of Canadians will be ready and excited to travel again when the time is right.
What does the future hold for your destination and when do you think it will be welcoming visitors once again?
One thing we’ve seen time and time again is that the travel and tourism industry is very resilient, we have recovered from international crises and natural disasters before and I believe Jamaica as a destination will rebound stronger than ever following this pandemic.
Given the nature of this global health crisis, it’s hard to predict when and how we will be able to welcome visitors again, but we are optimistic that things will start to return to normal in the fall and winter season.
As an island, we are working hard to eradicate the virus and open our borders as quickly — and as safely — as possible.
What travel trends do you predict for later this year and 2021?
When social distancing measures are lifted, we predict there will be a lot of pent-up demand for overseas travel.
While people may be inclined to stay closer to home at first, we are hopeful that Jamaica will be one of the first international spots that Canadians gravitate to as the Caribbean will feel low-risk compared to other popular tourist hotspots such as Europe and Asia.
I also think people will be more mindful of personal hygiene and cleanliness when travelling, especially internationally and on airplanes. We’ll likely see increased usage of sanitizing tools and personal masks as people want to protect themselves — and others — when crossing international borders.
With that in mind, the Jamaican government is currently working on developing an online training program in collaboration with employers on the island to ensure all staff in the tourism sector are fully equipped and prepared to operate in a post-COVID environment.
The Jamaica Tourist Board is working hard to keep Jamaica top-of-mind among travellers, while respecting the calls for social distancing. We understand that travel isn’t possible right now, so we want to bring the spirit of the island home to Canadians.
With that in mind, we’ve launched a few different digital promotions and social media campaigns to provide travellers with a virtual escape:
Escape to Jamaica Instagram Campaign: In March, the @visitjamaica Instagram page launched an “Escape to Jamaica” campaign designed to transport viewers to the tropical destination through a series of videos featuring Jamaican personalities from the island and around the world.
Over the coming weeks, followers can get a taste of Jamaica through a series of recorded wellness sessions, chef demos, cocktail lessons and virtual DJ dance parties. All content will be shared on IGTV to be viewed live or later on.
Spotify Playlist: In a time of uncertainty and social distancing, it's important to try and find new ways to lift your spirits and bring a sense of normalcy back into your life.
The JTB wants to help ease your worries and transport you on a musical island getaway with our specially curated Spotify playlist featuring the country's top musical legends. The destination's Every Little Thing is Gonna Be Alright playlist reminds us to keep our heads high and attitude bright with melodies from Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Beenie Man and many more.