The Tourism Division is pushing ahead with its plans for bringing visibility to the island despite the current restrictions on entry for some visitor groups.
At Monday’s tourism town hall meeting at the Credit Union Hall in Brades, Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Premier, Daphne Cassell revealed figures which showed how significant the impact of the closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic has been.
Visitor expenditure for January to September 2019 was $21 million XCD and for the same period in 2020 it declined by 37% to $13.1 million. In the non-peak months from April to September 2019 expenditure was $8.4 million and this year only $0.43 million or a whopping 95% reduction.
“Since April 2020, the harsh reality is that, tourist, excursionist, cruise passenger and yacht arrivals have significantly declined, resulting in loss of jobs, disruption to livelihoods and hardship for workers across the entire tourism sector in areas of accommodation restaurant, tour and taxi, arts and craft, recreation, and entertainment,” Cassell stated.
“Now more than ever, a multi-stakeholder approach is needed to assess and to steer recommendations for the development of policies, strategies and projects. Recommendations that will leverage the unique assets of the destination and to contribute again in a significant way to socio-economic development of Montserrat,” she added.
The Tourism Division on Monday announced 14 members for its newly established Montserrat Tourism Stakeholder Advisory Council, who will serve until December 31, 2021.
Director of the division Warren Solomon provided an update on their activities so far for 2020. The division is currently working through $6.5 million XCD in projects from the 11th EDF.
While early plans were halted due to the lockdown, the division later initiated several programmes to build capacity for workers in the sector. So far this year, they have conducted four industry trainings. These were The Successful Taxi Driver, Managing the Customer Experience, Cruise Destination Preparedness and Housekeeping for the Tourism Sector. Upcoming programmes include social media marketing and presenting and packaging products.
Preparatory work continues on the Volcano Interpretive Centre and Solomon said it is expected that construction will begin in early 2021.
The beach facilities upgrade project has already seen improvements at Woodlands Beach. Bids for the shower/bathroom installations at Isles Bay, Old Road Bay, Lime Kiln Beach and Little Bay have been received and work is expected to begin shortly, once contracts are signed.
The tourism director said the new website has been launched and new features such as videos, blogs and photos will be introduced regularly. He said that the current brand logo tests positively internationally but a tag line is needed. Stakeholders are expected to play a part in helping to select a new tag for the tourism brand.
While international travel and events were restricted due to the pandemic, Solomon said it opened opportunities for the island to gain visibility virtually and in more affordable ways. Montserrat is featured in the Sept/Oct and Nov/Dec 2020 digital editions of the Caribbean Beat Magazine. They have also been supportive of a forthcoming project called History of Montserrat Cricket and have done interviews with other international outlets such as PIX NY.
The island has also been participating in virtual travel trade shows such as World Travel Market and one targeted at UK and Ireland travel professionals. This Solomon said has been a cost effective way to directly target the travel trade and media. Virtual promotions will feature prominently in the island’s marketing strategy going forward, he added.
The director said the plans to add a booking engine to the website had to be altered as it was clear that across the island, the sharing of information on fees and products was not forthcoming from many in the sector.
Premier Joseph Farrell, who was also present at the town hall said that it is unlikely that the island will open to visitors until the latter part of 2021. He said they have requested additional financial support for members of the sector from the British Government. However, he added, any additional spend for retooling tourism sector workers will need to come from local funds.