THE VIEW FROM EUROPE: Common health protocols are the key to tourism’s safe return

Since late April there have been virtually no tourist arrivals in the

In the last few days however, several countries have announced plans
to reopen to international travel, albeit in a restricted way.

Among those that have established dates and announced strict rules and
specific health requirements for tourism are: Antigua, St Lucia, and
the USVI. Others such as The Bahamas, Aruba and the Cayman Islands
have indicated tentative dates when they hope again to be able to
welcome visitors. For their part, Cuba, Barbados and Jamaica, out of
an abundance of caution, have spoken only about the preparations they
are making for when tourism might resume.

Much less mentioned is the basis on which air and sea lift will be
restored and more importantly in the short to medium term, the central
role that carriers, airports and countries of origin may have in
ensuring no new cases of COVID-19 are imported into the region.

As with all else relating to economic recovery from the virus, there
is a tension between public health requirements and avoiding a deep

Many governments and international financial institutions now believe
that it is quite possible that tourism arrivals into the region could
decline by as much as 80% this year and that employment will fall
commensurately, significantly reducing GDP in all
hospitality-dependent nations.

It is therefore scarcely surprising that that the industry and every
tourism reliant Caribbean nation is now desperate to reopen in the
shortest possible time and see visitors return to jump start rapid
economic growth.

Despite this, the industry is unlikely to recover in the same way as
other sectors because of its dependence on multiple factors beyond the
control of host destinations.
As Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism, Edmund Bartlett, recently pointed
out, this is because the  pandemic will probably have a longer-lasting
effect on international tourism due to reduced consumer confidence and
the likelihood of longer restrictions on the international movement of

What is becoming apparent is that even with the detailed – for some in
the industry, controversial – on-island measures that St Lucia and
others have announced, significant issues remain in achieving a common
Caribbean health protocol that the airlines and cruise companies can
support, along with a standard establishing ‘safe
corridors’ for travel to the region.

Speaking recently about the problems the Caribbean is facing in
relation to reopening tourism and restoring airlift, Barbados’
Minister of Tourism, Kerrie Symmonds, made clear that no definitive
region-wide course of action has been agreed.

He told a media briefing that the island’s Prime Minister, Mia
Mottley, and the Prime Minister of St Lucia, Allen Chastanet, had
chaired a “useful meeting” with all the air carriers that service the

In his words, safety was the principal concern of both governments and
the carriers. The meeting he said had agreed, “There is no competitive
advantage that anybody has over the other in terms of being safe. We
all want the highest degree of safety that we can have. Nobody feels
comfortable in reopening until you have been able to secure, first of
all, the well-being of the people in your country and the workers and,
secondly, the visitors to the island.”

What is being discussed is the possibility of a regional protocol
involving common forms of testing on departure to and from the region
plus other in-country measures.
Whether a Caribbean wide public health standard for travel acceptable
to all can be established or, in its absence, it will be, as Mr
Symmonds suggested, for the airlines to determine as “robust partners
(that) make sure there is a contaminant free corridor” between the
point of departure and the point of arrival, remains to be seen.

Whatever the outcome, it will involve governments somehow balancing
national economic and public health interests, verifiable
implementation, and the common regional good with what external travel
industry partners and travellers may agree to.

It coincides with growing concern among airlines about the plethora of
different regulations being adopted by governments around the world,
their practicality and commercial viability.

Just a few days ago Alexandre de Juniac, the Director General of IATA,
the body that brings together the world’s airlines, said that while
they are eager to fly, international travel cannot re-start when
markets such as the UK impose 14 day quarantine rules on all arrivals
including returning residents.

His emphasis was on a ‘risk-based layered system’ to biosecurity
coordinated globally. This he believes should be undertaken in ways
that provide the arriving country with confidence about the procedures
on departure from any point of origin, and travellers with reassurance
of there being common public health measures in place. The objective
he said was to work with others to put in place quickly an agreed
approach that can restore global connectivity safely and efficiently.

IATA’s published outline incorporates pre-flight arrangements at
airports, in flight requirements including face coverings, testing
before departure with the important caveat, if such tests are
‘scalable, accurate and fast’, and should they become available,
science backed immunity passports.

Although opening Caribbean tourism offers the possibility of driving
economic recovery, it will be important that the outstanding and
continuing epidemiological and scientific advice provided by the
Caribbean Public Health Agency and PAHO is not set aside by one or
another government seeking short term advantage. The willingness of
almost every country in the region to act decisively and swiftly on
their recommendations is why the Caribbean has by global per capita
standards seen such low transmission and mortality rates.

As the pandemic lessens, the challenge will be developing and
sustaining a common health framework for tourism: one that meets
national and regional requirements, the concerns of citizens, workers
and visitors, and the thinking of external industry partners.

If this is not achievable it is hard to see how the Caribbean’s
tourism economy will thrive or the region be able to create the
confidence and simplicity necessary for travellers to return in
similar numbers as before.

Barbados Advocate

Mailing Address:
Advocate Publishers (2000) Inc
Fontabelle, St. Michael, Barbados

Phone: (246) 467-2000
Fax: (246) 434-2020 / (246) 434-1000