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Former Secretary-General of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation, Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace.

Expert: COVID-free zones can help tourism

REGIONAL tourism expert Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace has given the assurance that a concerted effort is already under way to determine how the tourism sector can move forward, following the devastating effects being seen and felt because of COVID-19.

The former Secretary-General of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation was recently participating in an online panel discussion hosted by the Inter-American Development Bank on ‘How Caribbean Businesses Can Cope with the Coronavirus’.

He pointed out that conventional wisdom is showing that in order for there to be “business as usual”, there would be a need for a vaccine so that visitors and the service providers can co-

However, he noted that this is going to take a long period of time. “If you begin to look at the finances of the countries in the Caribbean, there is no way in the world that we can wait until that period of time.”

Stressing that options are already in train, he said, “The first thing is that we need to figure out a way …to create some kind of COVID-free corridors. Meaning ... for people leaving their point of departure to come into the Caribbean and arriving at what I am describing as a COVID free community, where they can co-mingle and co-exist with service providers and people who arrive.”

Vanderpool-Wallace stated that critical to this would be pursuing some form of rapid testing. “That is the only way we are going to be able to do that. In order to get there, what we have done is began talking to some world-renowned schools of Public Health and they already indicated they are quite eager and interested in helping with this, and working for example with CARPHA in the Caribbean to make sure that we have these COVID-free corridors and COVID-free communities to begin to provide some kind of services to those people who are prepared to begin to travel into the Caribbean, because it is so substantially a part of our economy,” he said.

He stressed that this can’t be done by Caribbean countries individually. “We cannot have individual countries competing with one another with differing sets of protocols in terms of what it is that is going to define somebody to allow them to come without any worry into the region, and to have workers in our region who are participating without any worry that they are gong to be contaminated by somebody.”

“So we are beginning to put those protocols in place to get people to understand they are not going to one day magically wake up and find that things are COVID-free in the short-term, at least that is not what anybody is saying. In the meantime we must find some ways for us to begin to do this, and what I just described is something that is very much and very well under way.

“We are working with the airlines, with cruiselines, tour operators, travel agents, ground transportation companies – everybody is involved in the conversation to see how we can begin to return our economies to some semblance of normalcy, even though it is going to take a while.”

He added, “We love to talk about diversifying our economy, as if it is a very easy thing to do. The reason that we haven’t diversified our economies up until now is because it is a very difficult thing to do, and tourism quite frankly contributes such a substantial proportion of our GDP and our economy, that whenever you talk about tourism diversification, we have to talk about “tourism and” not “tourism or”. If you don’t talk about “tourism and” we are running ourselves into the same kinds of problems.”

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