OCHO RIOS – As Barbadian hoteliers come to terms with cancellations owing to a less-than-ideal COVID-19 vaccination rate nationally, their Jamaican counterparts have suggested a different marketing strategy to convince would-be guests.
While pointing to a “Resilient Corridor” as the main reason behind the strong recovery of Jamaican tourism, which has welcomed just over one million tourists up to the end of October, officials here have reported that the marketing strategy of pushing the industry vaccination rate, and the approach taken to encourage hotel staff members to be vaccinated, are bearing fruit.
“What some people push is the country, but [the vaccination rate] in the country is much lower than it is in the hotels,” President of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourism Association (JHTA) Clifton Reader told Barbados TODAY.
“The [Resilient] Corridor, which is not a feature of Barbados, has worked for us because they [travellers] may realise that we have somebody in Clarendon not vaccinated or somebody in Manchester, but the tourists are not going there, they are coming along the corridor,” he explained. “And we are using the corridor, the high vaccination rates and low positivity rates in the corridor as a great marketing tool to bring people back to Jamaica.”
Last month, Barbadian hoteliers reported that travellers were cancelling bookings to Bridgetown as the number of COVID-19 positive cases and deaths continued to mushroom among the unvaccinated.
The Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) has since urged Government to back its call for industry workers to take the jab by December in preparation for the winter tourist season.
The average vaccination rate among BHTA members reached around 40 per cent in September, with some properties reporting between 70 and 90 per cent take-up rate and one hotel property reporting a 100 per cent vaccination rate.
Some hoteliers have already indicated that any new employees will be required to take the jab.
But when asked what lessons were there for Caribbean countries to learn from each other, Reader suggested that instead of taking somewhat of a “sledgehammer” approach, in addition to selling the vaccination rate and low positivity rate in the industry, hoteliers could consider employing other methods.
Reader said: “We have learned a lot from Barbados, especially your very prolific leader, a leader of the 21st century. But as people of this region, I believe we need to come together as one. When we deliver the Resilient Corridor in Jamaica that should have been replicated throughout the Caribbean as a good standard to go by.
“Barbados has developed some good things as well that Jamaica could learn from. But one of the things I think we should learn is engagement – how management engage the staff – it is not about putting in policies to get staff out of work, but it is about convincing staff, giving them the information they need to make the right decision. Some people use the big sledgehammer and say ‘okay. if you don’t get vaccinated . . .’ but most hotels in Jamaica were encouraged through sponsorship by the Ministry of Tourism and the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) to develop programmes where they could bring in professionals including doctors, local movie stars, singers and artists and influencers to talk to the staff.
“That is why in Jamaica we are able now to boast that within the hotels we are at 62 per cent [vaccination rate], and I think Barbados and other islands can follow suit, and we are willing to share the information gathered throughout the time, with other nations.”
He was responding to questions during a media briefing, which formed part of a Jamaica Tourist Board-organised media trip for overseas media houses, including Barbados TODAY, to witness how some of the measures were working in the Jamaican tourism industry.
Reader reported that based on a 100 per cent sample, which is done weekly, the vaccination rate among hotel workers was around 62 per cent as of last weekend, up from 55 per cent a week prior. He also reported a growing vaccination rate among workers at attractions, transport and ports and airports.
Pointing out that he has not used any of the ten quarantine rooms at the Moon Palace Jamaica All-inclusive Resort where he is Managing Director, Reader said the positivity rate among visitors on the island was “less than 0.5 or one per cent”.
Last weekend’s survey also showed that the occupancy rate across the accommodation sector was averaging 65 per cent, which represents about 80 per cent of what it was the same time in 2019, the best year for the industry.
General Manager of Jamaica Inn, Kyle Mais, said that his property currently boasts just over 70 per cent vaccination rate, adding that he was hopeful of that reaching 100 per cent “soon”.
He admitted COVID-19 vaccination was “a big thing”, adding that “one of the biggest questions we get asked now is what is the vaccination percentage or is everybody vaccinated”.
“Primarily, 99 per cent of the service team are vaccinated so that is a great selling point at this point. You think that you are selling beaches, service and a room, but now that is important,” said Mais.