JAMAICA are hoping to survive the fallout of the sudden collapse of Thomas Cook, the British tour company, by securing all of the airlift seats out of the UK that would have been affected in the remaining six weeks of the summer tourist season.
This was the news revealed by director of tourism Donovan White during an exclusive interview with the Weekly Gleaner at the two-day Jamaica Travel Market event at Sopwell House, St Albans, Hertfordshire which took place on September 26 and 27.
White said he had been in dialogue with all the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) airline partners in the UK and they have indicated positively that they intend to take up the slack left by the Thomas Cook fallout and have even indicated very likely that they will increase capacity into the next year.
He said: “We are in discussion with our airline partners to step in to cover those flights which Thomas Cook handled from Manchester into Montego Bay during the summer months, May to October, with only six weeks of rotation were left on these. This means that approximately 1,900 tourists who had pre-booked with Thomas Cook to holiday in Jamaica could still do so.”
This reiterated an earlier address given by tourism minister Edmund Bartlett at the Jamaica Travel Awards dinner on Thursday when he said Jamaica had become the first country to recover the lost airlift fallout due to the tour operator’s demise. Both Bartlett and White had led the discussions with the airline partners immediately after the collapse.
The tourism director was also keen to emphasise that it was only the UK side of the Thomas Cook entity which had been affected as the charter flights out of Germany via Condor Airlines will continue and so too will Ving Airline flights out of Sweden into Montego Bay which have been unaffected.
In relation to the repatriation of passengers who were on the island when news of the collapse of the tour operator emerged, White said there were no problems in getting these visitors back to the UK.
He said: “This has been a smooth and seamless process working with the various hoteliers, destination management companies and airports to ensure that the passengers covered under the ATOL arrangement were taken care of.
“Virgin Airlines had sent out an aircraft to take back those passengers in the first week and another was due to collect those who had booked for two weeks. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) knew this was coming and plans were put in place,” he said
In terms of the financial impact on hoteliers, White said this is an area that will be much clearer in the weeks to come as the fallout starts to unveil itself.
He said: “So far there has been no direct complaint and I believe there is reasonable confidence within the hotel community that all their credits will be honoured, but the big losses will come from pre-bookings as you don’t get paid on these.”
Overall, the director said he was extremely proud of the way the JTB team, especially the UK operation managed by UK and Europe regional director Elizabeth Fox, handled the situation as it unfolded.
“We try to be forward thinking and ahead of the curve at all times ensuring that we understand what’s happening in the market place. Minister Bartlett and I try to make ourselves available and assessable wherever we are needed across the world to handle situations like these. We make ourselves visible to drive confidence in the market place and reassure, not only our consumers, but also our B2B partners that the Jamaica Government and the JTB are willing and ready to negotiate and find solutions.”
This was the fourth staging of the Jamaica Travel Market in the UK which offer UK buyers, planners and agents the opportunity of one-to-one networking and briefing sessions with Jamaican hoteliers, destination management companies and tourism companies.
Over 24 participants from Jamaica took part in the two-day event which included resorts, attractions, small and medium size hotels and various tour operators. Among those returning were Jamaica Inn, Mystic Mountains ltd, Palace Resorts, Rondel Village, Sandals & Beach Resorts, AM Resorts, Half Moon, Holiday Inn Resorts Montego Bay, Courtleigh Hotel and Couples Resorts.
At the gala dinner which was held at the same venue on Thursday night, seven awards were handed out to winners in various categories including Best UK Tour Operator; UK Travel Agency/Tour Operator; UK Online Tour Operator; UK Charter Tour Operator; Nordic Tour Operator; UK Caribbean Specialist Travel Company and ‘Your Choice Award’.
In a keynote speech, minister Edmund Bartlett gave an insight into key developments in the industry including the re-imaging of the Jamaica Tourist Board brand which will come on-stream in October and also the investments in human resources in the industry.
He said: “We have put our workers at a level now where they will not just be qualified and certified, but also classified. We are building a professional industry in Jamaica and the purpose of this professionalism is to guarantee you, the tour operators, that the promise we make in the marketplace will be met when the visitors arrive in Jamaica. We have opened an associate degree in hospitality management in high schools so that students graduating into the industry will be grounded in tourism.”