MONTEGO BAY, JAMAICA - It was a tear-jerking surprise for one JetBlue passenger and her family as Jamaica’s tourism industry marked a significant milestone of welcoming one million stopover visitors in just 13 months, in the midst of a pandemic.
Daynel Williams, accompanied by four family members, exuded abundant joy as she was ushered out of the line of arriving passengers on JetBlue from New York on August 15, to be met by a team of officials, headed by Minister of Tourism, Hon Edmund Bartlett. She was showered with gifts and heartfelt congratulations on being the millionth visitor since Jamaica reopened its borders to international air travel on June 15, 2020. All borders were closed in March 2020, cutting off all arrivals as the coronavirus pandemic, COVID-19, began to take its toll.
Cuddling a baby in her arms while an infant held onto her dress, Mrs. Williams was almost speechless but managed to repeat “Oh God!” as she tried to contain her joy as Minister Bartlett told her that as the millionth stopover visitor, she was now the centre of international attention, facing several media representatives jostling to get close up shots of her and her family.
Her mother-in-law, Jennifer Williams, a Jamaican from Oracabessa, St Mary, was overwhelmed with joy as she was moved to tears. “I’ve been travelling back and forth to Jamaica for over 30 years now and this has never happened; I am so excited, I feel like crying.” She did allow a few tears of joy to flow while adding, “I’m so elated, I’m very, very happy. I can’t express how I feel.”
Among the welcome gifts was a voucher, valid for one year, entitling the entire family to a 4-day 3-night all-inclusive vacation at Royalton, presented by Regional Director of Sales for Blue Diamond Resorts International, Kerry-Ann Quallo Casserly.
Speaking to the significance of the occasion, Minister Bartlett said: “This is a milestone in the tourism annals, never before, within a year and one month have we ever had one million stopover visitors coming to our country.” Prior to COVID-19 it took Jamaica close to 20 years to record its first million arrivals in a year. However, up to 2019, just before the pandemic hit, stopover and cruise arrivals combined, exceeded 4 million.
Since the reopening of borders on June 15, last year, tourism has earned US$1.5 billion and just over 50,000 of the 130,000 workers who were laid off, are now back on the job. The Sangster International Airport alone has accounted for 5,000 of its 7,000 jobs being restored.
Mr. Bartlett said in the last quarter, “tourism increased by 5,000 percent in arrivals” and earnings also increased significantly, “so we have no doubt as to the impact of tourism on Jamaica’s economic recovery programme.”
Among the welcome party along with Minster Bartlett and Mrs. Casserly, were Director of Tourism, Donovan White; Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association President, Clifton Reader; Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of MBJ Airports, Shane Munroe and President and CEO of the Airports Authority of Jamaica, Audley Deidrick.