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Welcoming Tourism Home

Across the Caribbean, countries have opened their doors to visitors, but fears and anxiety of a second wave of COVID-19 continue to loom over the tourism industry. The virus remains a threat to public health as cases continue to rise internationally. At the same time, tourism remains vital to economic stability regionally, so leaders are faced with the dilemma of how to both embrace tourism and minimise risk.

The second edition of the Central Bank of Barbados’ 2020 Caribbean Economic Forum, “Reviving Caribbean Tourism”, provided a multi-perspective view on how we can approach this challenge. Regional leaders, hoteliers, and professionals in the tourism and health sectors shared their insight on opening borders, public health protocols, and approaches to welcoming visitors under new conditions.

Professor Clive Landis, Chair of the University of the West Indies (UWI) COVID-19 task force believes that we can mitigate the threat to the region. In his opinion, the Caribbean can boast of having a superior testing framework, which provides an advantage. Gold standard testing, speedy results, and isolation for people testing positive remain the best approach to containing the pandemic. Additionally, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has rated the Caribbean as low risk, and intraregional travel is not an immediate threat to public health. Moreover, Barbados continues to enforce stringent protocols for travel from high risk countries.

Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism, the Honourable Edmund Bartlett, shared similar sentiments, saying Jamaica has not shirked following strict protocol and screening methods. That island has further enhanced its tracking capabilities through technology and continues to train workers and support the implementation of rigorous practices within the industry.

Despite the optimism, there are some challenges. Director of Corporate and Government Relations at The Caribbean Council in the UK, Sue Springer highlighted that the United Kingdom is responsible for over 60 percent of arrivals in the eastern Caribbean islands. The likelihood of a recession and the ceasing of employment support schemes in October could impact 2020 arrivals. Nevertheless, she believes that Britons’ love for holiday and especially Caribbean travel as well as the current trend of vacation deferrals rather than cancellations is a positive sign. There is hope, she says, for 2021.

Creating a Successful Tourism Destination 

Patricia Affonso-Dass, President of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association says people’s motivation to travel, and their choice of destination will be determined by flexibility in travel arrangements, such as airline and hotel cancellation policies. Increased communication on protocols, public health reporting, increased insurance for visitors, and value for money will be key as well. She believes that accommodation will also play a vital role, noting that visitors’ choice of accommodation has undergone a shift with an increased preference for villas and cottages, which allow for dining in open spaces and isolation from others when desired.

Patricia Dass reinforced that new restrictions do not mean that travel needs to be a diminishing experience. Training and technology continue to raise the standards of operating even amongst the challenges. Virtual training in food and beverage operations, increasing the credentials of tourism workers, and using QR codes rather than printed menus, as well as promoting contactless check-in are some of the solutions to the immediate problems.

The panellists agreed that tourism is essential to the livelihoods of Caribbean people and the economic fortunes of our islands, and they stressed that in the long-term, well beyond COVID, collaboration and the creation of regional multi-destinations, changes in the classification of industry workers, the ability to move across the region and the alignment of policies could resolve some of the issues threatening resilience.