Caribbean nations that have endured major hurricanes over the past four years have found themselves revising their preparedness plans as they move to reopen their borders from the coronavirus pandemic.
During the Caribbean Tourism Organisation’s Storm Lessons discussion, senior tourism officials from Anguilla, St. Maarten and its French counterpart, St. Martin, the British Virgin Islands, Dominica and the Bahamas outlined how their countries have so far recovered from Hurricanes Irma, Maria and Dorian and how they plan to counter the threat of the coronavirus pandemic, which has shut down the region’s tourism industry since March.
Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism in Anguilla Cardigan Connor said: “Collectively everyone from government to the private sector understood that if we got our act together we would come back stronger.
“Our 2019 visitor numbers were higher than ever before and prior to the shutdown this year it looked like we would do even better. I am of the view that once we come together as a region we will bounce back fully from this pandemic.
“Apart from the hurricanes, we had to deal with 9/11 and the fear of flying that resulted from that, the Zika outbreak and we have come through all of that. This is no different, it is not something we cannot collectively overcome because we have been very proactive in dealing with it.”
Director General of Tourism for the Bahamas Joy Ann Jibrilu said that her country had revised its disaster management plans to incorporate handling the challenges the pandemic presented.
“We started working on our hurricane preparedness manual to incorporate the situation we are in now,” Jibrilu said.
“We got together with our team and went over tasks and responsibilities to see how we could implement social distancing, which is the most common one, but we also considered logistics, for example, when you go out into the field you cannot have the same amount of people in the car as before, and while sanitation was always an issue before it is one we will have to examine more closely.”
She added her country was also using its current “down time” to train frontline workers such as vendors and taxi drivers in the antivirus safety protocols.
Director of the Tourist Authority in French St. Martin Valerie Demaseau said her country was tentatively seeking to reopen its doors to visitors within the next couple of months.
She said: “We continue to meet with stakeholders at the airport and airline companies, and are working towards July and August.
“We will open to regional travel first but up to two days ago these discussions were still uncertain.
“We are making sure the airports are ready with the relevant safety measures in place when the visitors return such as sanitisers and testing stations, but we are still operating in an uncertain environment at present.”
Her counterpart on the Dutch side of the island, May Ling Chun, said a staycation campaign is being developed to revive the hotel industry before welcoming visitors back from further afield.
“Our protocols for hotels, restaurants, the airport and sea port are in line with international standards,” Chun said. “We have not yet decided when we will open, but we will do it in phases. Right now we are working on a staycation campaign, aimed at utilising our accommodation to bring it back up, then we will take it regional and go from there.”
Chief Executive Officer of the Discover Dominica Authority Colin Piper told the forum: “Dominica has set up a private and public sector task force and we are putting in a 30-60-90 day plan.
“We have focused on four pillars: marketing and promotion; health protocols; product development and what we do with it, and the fourth is access by sea or air, so it takes into consideration all the protocols from when people leave their airport in their home countries, airline requirements, and what we will require at our ports of entry and how they get through all aspects of the visitor experience.
“There is a lot of behind the scenes discussions between government and private sector to continue work on these protocols so we can put in something practical, implementable and safe.”
In the British Virgin Islands, Tourism Director Sharon Flax-Brutus said the BVI is targeting its returning nationals first when it reopens its ports of entry.
She said: “We do not have an opening date in mind yet, but returning nationals are coming back from June 2, so we will pilot our visitors approach with them to ensure our protocols are workable and comply with what the health ministry needs.
“During our down time we are looking at product development, destination training in terms of the new guest experience, new touch points, we have to rethink all of that as our approach is very personal.
“So we will be testing it out on our returning nationals, and hopefully if it works how we envision it we will welcome our visitors back.”
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