As the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to inflict severe damage to economies across the globe and significantly curb travel, Jamaica received a well-needed boost with JetBlue’s inaugurating new flights into this western city, between the cities of Newark, New Jersey; and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina on Saturday.
An elated Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett, who expressed his confidence that despite the challenges of the pandemic, the tourism sector is resilient enough to bounce back as it has done following previous crises, was among other tourism stakeholders to welcome the back-to-back flights.
“JetBlue’s new flights are testament to that (resilience) and I am pleased to say that 2021 will see a raft of positive developments on the tourism front that will bring back many jobs and needed revenues whilst strictly maintaining health and safety protocols,” Bartlett argued.
“Already, June to September earnings amounted to US$231.9 million, and hotel occupancy rates are slowly inching up.”
Among the leading carriers for Jamaica, JetBlue is a major American low-cost airline and the seventh largest airline in the United States by passenger load. Prior to the pandemic, the airline carried more than 35 million customers a year to 100 cities in the US, the Caribbean, and Latin America with an average of 925 daily flights.
Senior advisor and strategist in the tourism ministry, Delano Seiveright, noted that the beginning of flights from Newark and Raleigh-Durham was a “very positive signal” in these difficult times.
“Newark for one is essential for Jamaica’s tourism, as it is a major airport in the tri-state area (New York, New Jersey and Connecticut) from which we draw a very significant number of our visitors; whilst Raleigh-Durham is a growing metropolitan area in North Carolina that Jetblue uniquely identified as one it anticipates increasing demand for leisure travel,” Seiveright said.
He added that while visitor traffic has been steadily increasing since the reopening of the nation’s borders in June, it is still far less than what it was last year. “Nonetheless, more flights are coming on stream and flight load factors are continue to pace upwards,” Seiveright said.
Questioned about the state of the other major markets for Jamaica including the UK and Canada, Seiveright noted that there is a lot of interest in travelling. However, varying lockdowns, quarantine rules and just general uncertainty is even more severely complicating traffic from those markets compared to the United States for which there still is a significant decline in traffic.
“The UK is currently in a major lockdown that essentially restricts leisure travel until December 2 and there may be two-week quarantine for those returning, which is a bit of a deterrent. Meanwhile, in Canada there is a mandatory two-week quarantine for basically anyone returning to the country,” Seiveright stated.
Bartlett reiterated that Jamaica’s COVID-19 Health and Safety Protocols, which are endorsed by the World Travel and Tourism Council, as well as the north and south coast resilient corridors, “have allowed us to balance the reopening of borders to tourism, while also maintaining safety for tourism workers, residents and visitors. Internationally, Jamaica has been held up as a leading example of how to create a safe and seamless travel experience for our visitors.”
Executive director of Jamaica Vacations Limited (JAMVAC), Joy Roberts, was also elated with the arrival of the flights.
“I believe out of adversity there is always some good and we saw evidence of that. We had flights coming out of New Jersey, which is a market that is untapped. It is close to New York, but there are always challenges getting to the New York airports. So it is also a point of connection for them. But Jet Blue has solidified itself in the New York market because it used to be at JFK but has now added the New Jersey market. So I am happy for that. We have always had charters coming out of Raleigh but now we are happy to have the service out of Raleigh,” Roberts said.
According to a news release from MBJ Airports Limited, operator of Sangster International Airport, director of International Airports at JetBlue, Giselle Cortes, stated that “Montego Bay is part of JetBlue’s broader plan to generate cash and capture traffic on new, nonstop routes. We’ve selected routes where our low fares and award-winning experience will be noticed. These new routes solidify our leading position in the Caribbean, grow JetBlue’s New York City presence in Newark and provide an additional connection to the south-east”.
MBJ Airports Limited’s Chief Executive Officer Shane Munroe is also pleased with the addition of the new service.
“This is a noteworthy realisation at a time like this and demonstrates the strong appeal of Jamaica as a tourist destination. We welcome the addition of these new routes and look forward to the continued growth of JetBlue operations at MBJ,” Munroe stated.