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Traveling to Jamaica During COVID-19

The meetings and incentive travel industry forever changed in March of 2020 with the beginning of COVID-19, and while meeting planners and others are back to traveling, the threat of new variants looms on the horizon.

Recently, we traveled to Jamaica with 160 attendees during a Level 4 Travel Advisory. It’s important to understand that it is possible to operate and execute meetings and incentive trips safely and successfully with these constantly-changing travel advisories. This blog covers what we learned from our recent trip to Jamaica and some critical information you will need to know when planning your trip.

Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall

Travel Requirements and Communication 

Knowing, understanding, and communicating COVID-19 travel advisories and steps is paramount for meeting planners. When traveling to Jamaica, travelers must complete an online health assessment and show proof of a negative COVID test. Both requirements must be completed within specific timeframes to ensure all attendees can pass the country entry process. Making sure everyone understands and completes these steps is extremely important. You would not want to shatter anyone’s dreams of dipping their feet in the sands of the Jamaican beaches.

To help make sure these steps are taken at the correct time, a robust communication plan needs to be put in place; this is not only helpful for current COVID-19 protocols but for any updates that may change between the planning and traveling phases. Multiple forms of communication such as email, SMS, Zoom, and others can help drive home the importance of completing these steps. (What are the Jamaica travel advisories today? Refer to the CDC Guidelines for Jamaica for the most up-to-date COVID updates.)

We utilized the program website, pre-trip documents, email, and Zoom meetings to communicate with attendees for our event. This simple infographic (posted below) outlined the steps and the timing of steps required was the starting point for all our communication pieces.

These steps were made prominent on our program-specific website, a printed version was provided in their pre-trip package, each step was emailed to attendees on key dates, and we even created a town hall meeting to review each step so attendees could ask questions. It was such a success that we plan to implement these touchpoints in almost all group travel events for the foreseeable future.

Meeting Planner Travel Advisory Steps COVID-19 Infographic - 1

Safety Guidelines

Not only do meeting planners have to communicate the logistics of how to travel during a pandemic, but we must also plan for safety. It is essential to understand the country’s guidelines, your hotel and DMC guidelines, as well as the hosting company’s specific policies. These must be reviewed and considered while planning onsite activities and events. Specific areas of safety often include the following.

1. Air & Ground Transportation

Since all airports and airlines require masks while traveling, we sent each attendee masks and hand sanitizer as part of their pre-trip package. This is a fun and inexpensive way to remind attendees they must wear a mask while traveling, in addition to making it easier to identify attendees during arrival and onsite at the airport.

Most DMCs have decreased the number of people per vehicle to allow social distancing on transfers. When budgeting for upcoming meetings and trips, this is something you will want to take into account. Additionally, hand sanitizer is required for each attendee to use while boarding, and masks are required while on vehicles.

2. Hotel Check-in

For most incentive groups, a private hotel check-in is provided for guests. This allows for a dedicated space for the group and creates distance from the central hotel check-in. Our dedicated space was set up in the resort’s open-air lobby with plenty of room for social distancing.

The hotel required all guests to sanitize their hands and shoes when arriving. A floor mat for shoe cleaning and a hand sanitizer station for handwashing was provided for guests. In addition, all bags were sanitized upon arrival before being delivered to guestrooms. The hotel staff very clearly sanitized the lobby, furniture, and other high-touch spaces on-property throughout the day, which brought a comfort level to the attendees and the planners. These simple requirements and steps were great reminders to guests that all precautions were being taken to keep everyone safe.

3. Dining on Property

To monitor restaurant capacities, reservations were required for dinner at each restaurant. These were easily made through the hotel website/mobile app or directly with a hotel concierge team member. Menus were accessed via QR codes, but a single-use paper menu could be provided if requested. Similar to the arrival process, guests were asked to use hand sanitizer and use the floor mats before entering each restaurant.

4. Hosted Events & Dinners

Hosted events and dinners are meant to bring attendees together to network and celebrate their accomplishments. But how do you create a safe place to do so in the COVID era? Hotels have created many guidelines to safely host meals and events while keeping social distancing practices in mind. Using outdoor spaces is the easiest way to help alleviate the concern of transmission. Setting tables for 5 or 6 people as well as utilizing served buffets or plated dinners are also good ways to serve meals while also providing a space to network and celebrate.

Travel Requirements to the United States

Your attendees will need to get back to the US, so how is this done? We have outlined several steps below to help make this process work smoothly.

1. On-site Testing

As of the writing of this post, it is required to show proof of a negative COVID test to return to the United States. Thus, hotels have created simple processes for planners and guests to get this accomplished with minimal hassle. As a planner, it is vital to understand the hotels’ procedures and communications to inform your attendees properly. Pre-assigning testing times for your attendees will help alleviate the stress of onsite testing arrangements and allow you to confirm all attendees have been tested easily. It is important to consider all hosted activities, events, and departures when assigning testing times and enable attendees to make necessary changes.

Since COVID testing can be uncomfortable for some, we incentivized our attendees by adding a raffle drawing to the process for our group. After attendees completed their test, they turned in a raffle ticket to the registration desk. Each day winners were announced and given a small prize, such as a resort credit or an amenity. Not only did this help us confirm all guests completed their testing, but it added a little cheerful experience to the process.

2. Return Testing

While all our attendees tested negative for their return flights home, the hosting company asked everyone to test again three days after returning home. Since we came from a country with a Level 4 Travel advisory, this was another layer of protection for attendees before returning to work.

Start Planning Now

Meetings and incentive travel are back, bringing with them new precautions and guidelines to follow. This will affect budgeting, so it is a good rule to revisit budget items that might affect the overall bottom number. Transportation will increase due to staffing shortages, and larger or multiple vehicles will be needed due to social distancing requirements. Décor will increase if additional tables are added due to social distancing. Design hours and printing materials will increase to communicate COVID-19 protocols. And try to remain proactive if new COVID guidelines mean an increase in budgeting. Knowing and understanding the rules and processes that must take place to travel and how to communicate those steps is crucial.

Brightspot is here to guide our clients and attendees back to traveling safely. We recently released a series of webinars on what to expect after COVID-19 for incentive travel and meetings. Don’t be late to the party – watch now as you prepare for the return of in-person meetings.

– Written by Karolyn Hemmig & Courtney Neunaber

Hyatt Zilara

Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall

Team Brightspot

Author Team Brightspot

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