The tourism industry may have to recover without the help of one of its main source markets, the US, dealing a potentially massive blow to the already crippled industry, Tourism Minister Kerrie Symmonds has acknowledged.
With over one million people infected, 70,000 deaths and predictions of an even higher death toll from the coronavirus, Symmonds said the US may be closed to Barbados in the short-term, forcing it to target visitors from other destinations.
The US is Barbados’ second-largest source market behind the UK.
Between January and September 2019, Barbados welcomed 522,583 visitors through the Grantley Adams International Airport, an increase of 21,200 from the previous year.
And of Barbados’ major source markets, Central and South America recorded the highest growth for 2019 at 11 per cent, followed by the US at 9.5 per cent.
But Symmonds told reporters that with COVID-19 deaths in the US predicted to double in the next month Barbados was keeping a close eye on the situation.
He said: “It is a source of concern to me that we continue to talk with the United States as we must as it is our second major tourist market. But the fact of the matter is that as recently as last night the news was that they anticipate that while they have reopened several states, in fact, the vast majority of the states, they anticipate that the death toll will double in the month of June from what it is right now in the month of May.
“Therefore it is an unrealistic proposition to expect that we are going to be able to just fling open the doors to welcome United States travellers in the way in which we might have more easily have done six months ago.
“So while we have to be very guarded about certain markets, we have opportunities in other markets and I think on a market by market basis we are going to have to try to pick our way through this darkness in order to see how best we can ensure the survival of the country’s interest.”
On the as-yet-unannounced reopening of the island’s lone airport, Symmonds said whenever that time came strict protocols would be enforced.
He revealed that passengers passing through the airport would be subject to a PCR [polymerase chain reaction] molecular test.
Symmonds told journalists: “The airport, when it reopens, is going to have to reopen in keeping with protocols which will be set down with the assistance of the Ministry of Health and Wellness. The tourism sector alone will not determine these things. It is a public health crisis we are facing and the public health professionals are going to advise on those matters of personal protective equipment.
“It is important that we have some sort of provision in place first of all of our nationals who would be the frontline workers at the airport and the seaport. Above and beyond that we want to make sure that people coming into the country are not bringing disease of that nature and we want as best as possible to insulate against that as well.
“There is a test which is called a PRC molecular test…and as of today’s date is the understanding that it is perhaps the ideal type of test for us to have. Is it going to be the settled way forward I cannot say, but we do want to be able to create an environment in which you can arrive in Barbados and feel relatively secure and our people can feel secure that there is not going to be an influx of COVID-19 in any of its variations over the course of the next several months.”