Tourists still prefer the Caribbean
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– Experts say tourism levels depend on Region’s health management

SHOULD the Caribbean continue its above-average management of the spread of COVID-19, it is highly likely that when compared to other densely populated areas where cases of the virus have spiked, tourists from key areas such as the United Kingdom (UK), will continue to choose the Region as their vacation destination.

This was relayed by health and tourism experts at the second Caribbean Economic Forum hosted by the Central Bank of Barbados on ‘Reviving Caribbean Tourism’ on Tuesday.

Giving the perspective on how the Caribbean has performed to date with regard to mitigating COVID-19, was Chair of the University of the West Indies COVID-19 Task Force, Professor Clive Landis.

EXCEPTIONAL HEALTH MANAGEMENT

He said that the Caribbean, though made up of mostly developing countries, has done remarkably well in its management of COVID-19. He noted that the Region accounts for roughly 80,000 cases of which 65,000 are within The Dominican Republic and 1,500 deaths.

Landis explained that his means that, apart from The Dominican Republic, the rest of the Caribbean has only about 15,000 cases and 500 deaths.

This, he said, was made possible through quick and consistent action and collaboration amongst countries within the Region, even though they don’t all speak the same first-languages.

“This level of containment is really exceptional,” he said. “It was basically achieved by doing the basics well. Our testing was really excellent, right from the get go…a dozen or more islands were trained by the Pan American Health Organisation, they had the gold standard PCR test; the quality of the tests has been good as well as the speed of the results.”

Landis noted that for most Caribbean countries, results are generated within 24 hours, which allows for contact-tracing much earlier. He added: “We’ve been able to do testing, contact-tracing, isolation and quarantine and we’ve been doing that well and we also locked down early…this was the underpinning of how the Caribbean has achieved this containment and it means that we can reopen our economies from a position that it is safe to do so, providing we take all the necessary precautions.”

He said that the Caribbean is still classified as a low-risk Region when it comes to the presence of the virus, which means that it should not be fearful of opening its ports at the right time to other low-risk areas. However, Landis noted that the challenge comes with accepting persons from high-risk locations such as the United States (U.S.) or Brazil.

TOURISTS STILL INTERESTED

However, with key areas such as the U.S. and United Kingdom (UK) being the hub from which tourists arrive to the Caribbean, Director for Corporate and Government Relations at the Caribbean Council in the UK, Sue Springer, said that blocking out these countries completely will prove challenging to tourism in the Region.

Springer said that the UK accounts for around 60 per cent of the visitor arrivals in the Eastern Caribbean. However, though major airlines are not on scheduled trips to and from the Region, limited flights are expected to increase in the coming weeks.

“Despite all these challenges, the Brits love their vacations and it will be one of the very last things they will give up and, luckily, the Caribbean has an amazing reputation in the UK. And, due to the fact that the islands have managed to control the pandemic and put into effect strict protocols, the fear of travel to the Region is very much minimised,” she said.

The director revealed that a recent study conducted in June by Source News UK found that 57 per cent of readers planned to go on holiday and one in three were already looking at options. Meanwhile, 53 per cent of readers also stated that they’ve already put aside money for their vacations as a priority.

Springer added that Caribbean tour operators are also encouraging their clients to re-book vacations instead of cancelling. She reported: “They’ve done generally very well and what we’re seeing is a strong booking pattern for 2021, albeit at a slower pace. Some people are looking to book for the last quarter of 2020 and the early quarter of 2021, holding strain to see what is happening before making their final decisions, but they haven’t cancelled.”

The director has observed that, in general, tourists are looking for flexibility in their cancellation policies; for if the situation changes; the ability to trust that hotels will get pre-payment by tour operators in case anything changes; a clear airline-cancellation policy; sturdy health safety protocols; and affordable prices and accommodation facilities which allow them to self-isolate in their private space or have large, open spaces.

Back on June 17, President of the Tourism and Hospitality Association Guyana (THAG), Mitra Ramkumar had told the newspaper that Guyana’s tourism sector has been analysing each development and is seeking out ways to adapt to the circumstances and the new form that tourism will take on.

Ramkumar believes that with Guyana’s main focus on eco-tourism, it will not be difficult for the country to manage physical distancing at many destinations, as opposed to other countries accustomed to large and congesting crowds.

He also noted that local stakeholders have a plan in the works for wide-scale collaboration in the establishment of COVID-19 kits and business Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), which would enable most, if not all tourism businesses in Guyana to operate at the same level of efficiency.

He said that this unison is key as tourists are not likely to determine whether they should visit a country based on the standards of just one business, but tourism businesses in the collective.

On the other hand, one of the major fears of tourists, Springers said, is the inability to get tested within 72 hours of travel, which is now a requirement for travel to most Caribbean countries. There are also concerns that the usual activities will not be held and restaurants may be closed.

However, she assured: “Moving forward, I think that the Caribbean, we can say, is very much an aspirational destination and because of what has been done so far, I think, moving forward, we will see the Caribbean [be a destination where] people can get there and feel confident.”

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