Sun | May 26, 2024

Ominous Omicron

New coronavirus strain triggers cancellations, forward bookings

Published:Wednesday | December 29, 2021 | 12:11 AMJanet Silvera/Senior Gleaner Writer
Richard Wallace, owner, The Boardwalk Village Hotel.
Richard Wallace, owner, The Boardwalk Village Hotel.
 Joseph Smith, general manager, TenSing Pen Hotel.
Joseph Smith, general manager, TenSing Pen Hotel.
Persons arriving at the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, St James, earlier this month.
Persons arriving at the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, St James, earlier this month.
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WESTERN BUREAU: There is noticeable increase in cancellation of rooms and a fall-off in the rate of forward bookings as Omicron threatens to put a dent in the Jamaican tourism industry, particularly the small hotel sector. Most of the island’s...

WESTERN BUREAU:

There is noticeable increase in cancellation of rooms and a fall-off in the rate of forward bookings as Omicron threatens to put a dent in the Jamaican tourism industry, particularly the small hotel sector.

Most of the island’s small hotels are located in Negril, with some operating on the seven-mile beach and others on the West End confirming that they were already seeing the impact of the disruption in travel and tourism as a result of the latest virus.

On Tuesday, 2,800 flights worldwide were cancelled with more than 1,000 of them within, into or out of the United States, according to the CNN.

“We have had low levels of cancellations. However, we have seen a serious slowdown in the pace of forward bookings. And that is a serious concern to us,”general manager of TenSing Pen, Joseph Smith, told The Gleaner.

Smith, who has spent the last 30 years in the industry in management positions, is convinced the slowing down is being fuelled by the cancellation of a number of flights within the United States, as well as people just being fearful of travel at this time.

His concerns were echoed by two other hoteliers, Richard Wallace of Boardwalk Village Hotel and Sophie Grizzle Roumel of Charela Inn.

Wallace said that although a lot of his bookings were holding, there have been some last-minute cancellations.

“You lose the booking late and you are not able to fill it, that’s the part that’s hurting the most,” he said.

The three hoteliers expressed confidence in the level of preparation of the sector, but they argued that Jamaica’s low vaccine rate remains an issue. Twenty per cent of the population is vaccinated; however, the rate within the tourism sector is higher than the national average.

According to Smith, they have had to be offering discounted rates at the start of the winter tourist season, which is traditionally the high season, and the period when most hotels, airlines, tour companies, car rental agencies, restaurants and attractions are able to register a profit.

And while contending with the curve ball being thrown at them, the hoteliers say every guest who calls wants confirmation that the staff are fully vaccinated.

“Every email and every phone call starts with the question, ‘Are the staff vaccinated? The drivers, the masseurs, the entertainers?’ I don’t think I have received an email without that being the first question. It means that everybody is concerned,” Roumel revealed.

However, all three were quick to point out that Jamaica’s reputation, and the recent Centers for Disease Control Level 2 rating, coupled with the award-winning resilient corridor, were pluses for the country.

There is immense confidence in the product, the stakeholders argued, adding that repeat guests have helped.

“The cancellations are not a result of fear of what is happening in Jamaica, but more travel restrictions and travel fears from their own country when they are ready to return,” said Wallace.

Jamaica, they say, must continue to focus on the product, keeping its offerings high, while maintaining the protocols.

In addition, the guests who stay at the smaller hotels come to Jamaica because they want to explore the entire community.

“They come to experience Jamaica, not because they are attracted to an all-inclusive package, so if Omicron is spreading, it will affect us,” said Smith.

They are urging Jamaicans to help themselves and the economy by taking the jab.

Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association President Clifton Reader has said that Jamaica is doing well despite cancellations with a 70 per cent occupancy in December. Occupancy levels for January and February are projected to be in the high 60s.

janet.silvera@gleanerjm.com