The world has had very little to be cheerful about over the past few months; COVID infections and death, stalled economies, massive job losses …you name it!
However when faced with adversity, it has always been the nature of the human spirit to rise above.
I have been amazed and pleased to see how we have adapted, and how we have innovated in nearly every sphere of activity to ensure that we are not defeated by the coronavirus, but that we persevere and we move ahead.
No sector needs that more than travel and tourism, which is the economic pillar upon which many Caribbean economies stand.
I was therefore very excited, if a bit anxious, when I saw the steps being taken by a number of governments and hotels throughout the region to reopen for business. I mean, there were so many things that could go wrong after all.
But once more our people demonstrated their boundless ability to overcome and I must say that I am beyond proud of our hotels and our hospitality workers who have valorously met this challenge head on, and who have succeeded in getting ‘Operation Rescue Regional Tourism’ (my own label) off to a flying start.
Hotels such as Sandals Resorts have reported recently that their Platinum Protocols of Cleanliness have been an overwhelming success and has allowed them to welcome visitors back to the islands where they have so far opened.
This has no doubt been a major factor behind Sandals announcing recently that it will soon be opening even more hotels in St. Lucia, Barbados and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
On top of that comes word from Marriott that it will also be reopening its Elegant Hotels Collection from as soon as October. This includes a number of boutique resorts in St. Lucia and Barbados.
That’s fantastic news for our region’s farmers, taxi drivers, tour operators, vendors, entertainers and everyone who depend on the tourism sector!
The last thing we want is to allow an irretrievable stagnation of the economy, so kudos to those heroic souls who have taken the bold step to get the sector back up and running.
Yes there remain challenges; the onerous requirements for travelers being the top deterrent. It still takes an incredibly long time for people to get the results of COVID 19 tests, which means there needs to be a concerted effort to embrace rapid testing.
Look, the fact is that the rapid tests available now are just as accurate as the basic tests being done. Therefore there is zero reason for this insistence on the basic testing which takes as long as two weeks for results. Rapid testing works.
In fact British Airways is already showing what can be achieved, and working alongside the Boots Pharmacy chain in the U.K. has started offering passengers pre-flight coronavirus tests. This is a game-changer and according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, rapid coronavirus testing at airports could help save thousands of jobs and stop the need for blanket travel bans.
We have the technology, and its time our leaders begin to embrace it. All you have to do is look at the success in Cancun and you will see that it can work.
Right now you do not need to have a negative COVID-19 test to travel to Cancun.
When entering the country at a Mexican airport passengers may have their temperatures checked, and those exhibiting symptoms will then be taken for further screening or quarantine. Passengers are also required to fill out a questionnaire online and show evidence they have completed it at all checkpoints.
Your first reaction might be ‘this sounds risky’, but common sense dictates that no passenger will risk having to seek attention in countries where the health facilities are not on par with those in North America, therefore you find that most people travelling make sure they are in good health and are negative for COVID.
There are always exceptions to every rule, but take a look at this; Cancun has been able to keep a strong handle on COVID cases, and because they have made travel easier for tourists the holiday region saw a record 639 flights to Cancun over the weekend August 21st to 23rd.
Airport authorities said they screened nearly 832,000 passengers on the Sunday alone. That is astounding. Right now Cancun is welcoming international flights from Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Orlando and more, and at the moment practically all the legacy airlines have resumed service: American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit and United.
This offers tremendous hope for Caribbean governments and destinations dependent on tourism: it can be done, people will travel, and there is reason to be hopeful.
Many Caribbean countries have done an excellent job in managing COVID, such as St. Lucia which is the only Caribbean country and one out of only eight countries in the world with open borders to have a Level 1 COVID rating.
So the time has come to build on these successes. The time has come to take the next step and review outdated protocols which may very well be holding your economies back, when they could be all set to fly!
Angus F. Jones