Jamaica works the 'rooms' to keep in touch

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Mystic Mountain, an adventure park in Ocho Rios, is among the attractions that hosted a “room” during a recent Zoom webinar.
Mystic Mountain, an adventure park in Ocho Rios, is among the attractions that hosted a “room” during a recent Zoom webinar.

Destinations have come up with creative strategies to engage travelers during the Covid-19 pandemic, despite the fact that many of us could travel no farther than our home offices for the past several months.

From online cooking classes and fitness demos to DJ parties and inviting beach scenes, tourist boards worked to keep their islands top of mind for future visitors.

The Jamaica Tourist Board took the virtual route a step further and recently hosted a Zoom webinar update where viewers visited different "rooms," each of which was hosted by either a representative on location at a resort, an attraction or at an airport or an airport VIP lounge.

Donovan White, Jamaica's director of tourism新沙巴体育, said that "we must use all available resources as we bring back our economy in the safest way possible. We've seen that engagement helps drive demand and that the health and safety protocols we have in place make travelers more confident in visiting our island."

In the first "room," I visited with Marsha-Ann Brown, director of romance for Sandals Resorts International.

With the backdrop of the beach at Sandals Montego Bay, Brown ran through the new measures enacted for weddings at the Sandals properties.

新沙巴体育"We have distancing between tables and during seating at the marriage ceremony. Guests wear masks, as do all our team members. The wedding couple does not have to wear masks. Long before the actual wedding, we take the couple through virtual planning sessions so they will know what to expect," Brown said.

新沙巴体育Most wedding planning begins six to 12 months from the date of the ceremony, "and our phones are ringing now for next year. By the end of December 2020, we will have done close to 1,500 weddings this year, a year during which we were closed for more than three months due to Covid and the border shutdowns," Brown said.

新沙巴体育She reported that many U.S. and U.K. wedding guests who were holding reservations for this summer had pushed their dates ahead to 2021 rather than canceling.

新沙巴体育"Love has definitely not been canceled. Romance is in the air, and our inquiries and bookings reflect that," she said.

Club Mobay, a VIP lounge at Sangster Airport in Montego Bay.
Club Mobay, a VIP lounge at Sangster Airport in Montego Bay.

Holding forth in another "room" was Nicholas Watson, head of international sales for Club Mobay and Club Kingston, arrival and departure VIP lounges for guests at Sangster Airport in Montego Bay and at Norman Manley Airport in Kingston, respectively.

"It's all about creating a great first impression of Jamaica for our visitors," Watson said.

"On arrival, we greet their incoming flight and guide them quickly through the immigration and customs process in express lanes, because we know that all they want is to be on the beach with a Red Stripe as soon as possible," he said.

Departing passengers have use of the lounges, where food, drink, WiFi, work spaces and comfortable chairs are included in the admission fee of $30 for adults, $20 for kids.

新沙巴体育"We have a kids' play area and a teen game section. We've reduced capacity to adhere to social distancing requirements, and reservations are required. Guests must wear masks except when eating, and we offer a la carte or prepackaged menu items," Watson said.

新沙巴体育Moving on to the next "room" I saw vivid video images of ziplines, chairlifts, a bobsled run, an obstacle course, a rope course, a pool and waterslides, a hummingbird garden and a fleet of ATVs headed to a nearby river.

The scenes were from Mystic Mountain, which bills itself as a "rain forest adventure park for adrenaline junkies," according to Marsha Mattos Esmie, director of resort sales.

"We're set on 100 acres five minutes from Dunn's River Falls in Ocho Rios, we've been open 12 years and we reopened in mid-June with strict MM Safe Protocols for staff and guests," Esmie said.

All visitors have to wear masks throughout the park. "No mask, no admission is the rule," she said.

Capacity is set at 950 visitors. All rides are sanitized electrostatically after each run, and social distancing is enforced.

The park is open to locals daily except Wednesdays through August, on which days international visitors are welcome; admission is $135 for adults and kids over 9 years old; new rates will be announced in November, and reservations are required. Agent commission is 20%.

I "toured" Skylark Negril Beach Resort新沙巴体育 with Oliver Cargill, restaurant manager at Miss Lily's restaurant at the property.

The 28-room resort, smack in the middle of Seven Mile Beach, opened in 2018 and reopened July 3 after a five-month Covid closure.

"We're so glad to have guests again, and we've got all our protocols in place because we want guests to have fun, feel safe and return again," Cargill said.

新沙巴体育There is a computer screen at the front desk for contactless check-ins and checkouts.

After checkout, each room is sanitized and inspected, and a Clean Seal is placed on the door to ensure that the room has not be entered until the next guest arrives.

新沙巴体育"[Guests] don't have to wear a mask on the beach, but they do around the resort, and we've had no challenges with that," he said.

Occupancy is being kept at 50% for now.

"This a fun, hip place with lots of Jamaican vibe. The name Skylark means to laze about, idle and goof off. We're not all-inclusive like many of our neighbors. We are an independent, boutique property that is moderately priced," he said.

Another boutique Jamaican property was featured during this Zoom session. The family-owned Jamaica Inn in Ocho Rios reopened its doors on July 31, making Kyle Mais, general manager, a happy man.

新沙巴体育"Some of our repeat guests from overseas have already started checking in, and we're taking bookings, not huge but consistent," Mais said.

The luxury inn, which dates from 1958 and offers seven cottages, three bungalows and 45 suites, has installed its Pinwheel of Safety Protocols "that cover the guest experience from arrival to departure. We eliminated the buffet, our team of 156 has been thoroughly trained and although we can't hug every one of our guests, we are so happy to welcome them," he said.

Sangster Airport in Montego Bay has a number of health and safety protocols in place for arriving and departing visitors.
Sangster Airport in Montego Bay has a number of health and safety protocols in place for arriving and departing visitors.

新沙巴体育The final "room" I visited was Sangster Airport in Montego Bay, and as Sharon Hislop-Holt, manager of commercial business development and marketing at MBJ Airports, walked though the vast facility, she pointed out the plexiglass shields at customer areas and the sterile corridor that passengers pass through after the flight has landed.

新沙巴体育"Our protocols were developed with the Ministry of Tourism, the Tourism Development Co. and the Ministry of Health to safeguard the health and safety of passengers and staff, which is integral to the containment of this virus," Hislop-Holt said.

The airports are the first and last points of contact and impression for visitors, "and we aim to provide an experience that is professional, fast and friendly," she said.

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