Jamaica has reopened its borders to tourists but how safe is it to travel there now?

As we talk about and promote our Jamaican ganja vacation experiences, we have been getting questions regarding the safety of traveling there during this terrible and unpredictable corona virus pandemic. So, after the umpteenth conversation on the subject, we decided to fill the need for the kind of thoughtful, complete, coherent,and contextual answer that is not possible in a brief phone call or online chat. We have not read all 100+ pages of the new government regulations. This overview is based largely on interviews and articles in the U.S. and Jamaican press; nevertheless, we believe that we’ve addressed all the relevant and important issues. Please let us know if we missed any of yours.

COVID-19 has devastated the island’s tourism economy

Jamaica’s tourism sector has enjoyed record-breaking growth in recent years and government and industry leaders alike were projecting similar good news for 2020. But then came the corona virus pandemic! With reservations cancelled, hotels shuttered, staff furloughed and no foreign flights arriving, the tourism sector – and especially, the small, boutique resorts we feature on GanjaVacations- has been devastated. As is obvious, this situation is particularly calamitous for an economy which generates a huge chunk of its GDP and hundreds of thousands of jobs from tourism.

Doing an excellent job managing its COVID-19 infection levels

As countries go, Jamaica seems to have done an excellent job tamping down its COVID-19 infection levels. The island has been closed to foreigners and the local population subject to strict isolation, curfew, and other measures since March 21. Since recording its first infection on March 10th, Jamaica has only reported 728 confirmed cases and 10 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker – with more than 30% of these cases “imported” from the U.S. These numbers suggest that, at the moment, you’re likely to be far more safe from corona virus infection in a hotel room or on a beach in Jamaica than here in America. And, of course, you.ll be having much more fun – especially if you’re at one of our ganja friendly resorts.

Extensive new rules and big plans for a full and robust recovery

The government was not only keen to reopen the island as quickly as possible but to also implement policies, procedures and controls that strike the proper balance between business and safety. But, for Jamaica to present itself as a safe place to visit, it was paramount that its actions and messaging convince the world that it knows what it’s doing and has a plan that will protect foreign visitors. Preserving the kind of experience tourists expect in Jamaica was also essential. So, it was with much hope and enthusiasm that Minister of Tourism, Ed Bartlett, announced in early June that the island would again welcome foreign visitors as of June 15. His plan, along with an accompanying 100+-page document detailing a rigorous set of protocols to protect workers and tourists alike, seems to have been well received.

But, now that the island has reopened, will the tourists return?

For Jamaica, this is a USD $4.5 question. Donovan White, Director of Tourism, believes there to be much pent up demand and that, with good information and proper guidance, people with reservations for upcoming months will still arrive. Industry optimists are heartened that several airlines have announced the resumption of daily flights from major U.S and Canadian cities into Montego Bay. Many are also encouraged by a recent survey indicating that, despite COVID-19 concerns and restrictions at home, 60% of Americans said they are looking forward to traveling again.

Are the new safety measures sufficient to keep visitors safe? The experts seem to think so.

Airport COVID-19 screening in Jamaica
Airport COVID-19 screening in Jamaica

So, let’s address the new safety measures. Are they sufficient? Can visitors really feel safe? Is the world convinced that Jamaica can pull this off? Is it wise to travel to the island at the present time? We are inclined to believe so. (And, readily admit to having a vested interest in believing the government’s story.) Jamaica, for example, seems to be far more organized, thoughtful, proactive, and determined than many countries – including the U.S. But then again, few nations are as dependent on tourism as Jamaica is.

Highlights of the government’s COVID-19 safety regulations

  1. During the initial phase of reopening, tourism will be restricted to a “corona virus-resilient corridor,” stretching along the north coast from Negril in the west to Port Antonio in the east and hotels within this zone must be inspected and certified before reopening
  2. Foreign visitors must get pre-authorization to visit by way of a Travel Authorization Form available at the Jamaica Tourist Board website. This authorization is not required to book a flight, but you will be denied boarding without it.
  3. All arriving passengers are screened for COVID19 symptoms at the airport. Visitors from high-risk countries (U.S., UK, Central and South America, etc.) will undergo a COVID-19 test
  4. Visitors tested on arrival will be required to quarantine themselves at their hotel until the test results are known and, if positive, will be isolated at their hotel or at a government facility.
  5. Hotels must adhere to new requirements that include:
    • Designating a “Covid-19 Safety Point Person” to conduct spot checks, among other things
    • Taking the temperature of staff, placing hands-free sanitizer dispensers or hand washing stations at designated places and sanitizing elevators every 60 to 90 minutes
    • Providing isolation rooms for guests who contract the virus or display symptoms
    • Reducing restaurant capacity to 70 percent and eliminating self-service buffets
  6. What about beaches and pools?
    • Umbrellas and chairs must be at least six feet apart
    • Parties must be limited to 10 people or less
    • Beaches must be patrolled by a physical distancing officer

Breaking News – New Rules for Americans ONLY!

On July 1, Prime Minister, Andrew Holness, announced that visitors from the high-risk U.S. states of Florida, New York, Arizona and Texas are now required to pretest for corona virus BEFORE travelling to Jamaica and that other states may be added as necessary, This additional precautionary move seems to have been motivated by concerns by local medical professionals and alarm from the congestion the new arrival procedures have caused at the island’s two international airports.

So, what do you think?

Are you impressed by what Jamaica is doing? Would you feel safe travelling there now? What should they be doing that they are not? Inquiring minds at GanjaVacations would like to know.


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