Three months after closing down its commercial flight activity because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Barbados is looking to re-open for passenger business as early as next month, Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) Senator Rudy Grant has announced.
At the same time, he has given an indication that the association would consider lobbying the Mia Mottley administration for a temporary removal of government taxes on regional travel.
Grant was today addressing the BHTA’s first annual general meeting convened via the Zoom online platform.
He said as Barbados and other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states continue to open their borders, accommodation sector operators here should extend their staycation programme to nationals of the region.
“With the resumption of regional airlift let us further expand our staycation programme into the region. We can provide attractive packages through CARICOM, which provide discount for accommodation, dining, attractions and car rentals. In addition, we can lobby Government to consider temporarily removing taxes for regional travel, while encouraging our partner associations in the region to do the same,” Grant told the more than 120 members on the virtual meeting.
He said: “Let us use this opportunity to encourage CARICOM nationals to explore the beauty, attractiveness, history and heritage of our destinations while stimulating economic activity to assist with maintaining jobs and business survival.”
Grant stressed that the resumption of international commercial flights next month was not yet a done deal and could change, adding that a lot would depend on how source markets were managing the pandemic.
The Grantley Adams International Airport is expected to be reopened to commercial flights from CARICOM by the end of this month.
The BHTA head said American Airlines, JetBlue and Air Canada are expected to be among those resuming service come July.
“WestJet is expected in winter, so not before November/December. With the UK carriers, while there are some expectations that they will come possibly in July, there are discussions being undertaken through the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. with respect to what type of support can be provided and realistically what level of airlift we can expect coming out of the UK.
In relation to other airlines, Grant said they were expected to resume service by December.
“I know that the BTMI is looking at the creation of air bubbles, where with those destinations where there has been adequate management of the transmissions we can have easier and better flow of passengers going through the necessary protocols,” he said.
He warned members that while the recovery of the tourism product is anticipated to start in July, they should expect that things could change.
Pointing to the tourism task force, which he said continued to meet and put together necessary reports, Grant said: “In relation to the protocols for the reopening of Barbados we have expressed our agreement with Prime Minister Mia Mottley that we should not reopen until we have adequate and appropriate protocols in place that have been agreed to.
“While Barbados has been successful in flattening the COVID-19 curve, there are still significant challenges being observed in our major source markets, those being the UK and the US. We, therefore, must ensure that the resumption of tourism business does not accelerate a second wave of COVID-19, which, unless properly managed, can have a debilitating effect on the country and force us back into those lockdown procedures that had to be undertaken to ensure that the COVID-19 transmissions are significantly reduced,” said Grant.
He gave the assurance that discussions were ongoing between industry officials and representatives of the Barbados Workers’ Union and the Ministry of Tourism in relation to protocols.
He reported that the STR report for April 2020 showed that when compared to the same period last year, occupancy declined by a whopping 89 per cent and the average daily rate fell by 55.7 per cent.
Stating that the decline was expected, Grant promised that marketing of the destination would be modified.
“We now have to, with this reality, identify new modalities and marketing avenues to ensure that with our partners in our major source market we are able to keep Barbados top of mind,” he said.
“We must really seek to ensure that in this environment we look at these new realities and that we think outside our box in such a manner that we are able to imagine that imaginable dream. As challenging as that may seem, I think that in order for us to be better able to transform this industry we do have to ensure that we go outside the box and become very imaginative in how we move forward in this important age,” said Grant.