by Kareem Smith and Sandy Deane
British carriers are quietly gauging the impact of new United Kingdom (UK) travel restrictions to slow spiraling COVID-19 cases as local tourism officials brace for the impact from a shutdown on non-essential travel from that market.
At least one of the two British carriers serving the Barbados market have reported huge interest in the island as a vacation spot judging from heavy loads they have been supporting.
Virgin Atlantic reported: “Demand has been positive for travel to Barbados, with its rigorous COVID-19 protocols, including testing before arrival and a short quarantine period for visitors.
The island is open for tourism and a haven for travellers in search of sun. The evidence is clear from the very strong load factors which have continued this week as customers return home to Barbados or relocate for the winter,” the airline said.
An official of the airline told Barbados TODAY it is “currently evaluating what the new UK national restrictions will mean for our customers and flying programme”.
“At present, our schedule remains as published on our website. However, our teams will be in contact with any customers whose travel may be affected, to discuss
“Our absolute focus remains on supporting all of our customers, recognising the difficulties that these restrictions may pose to those with upcoming travel plans,”
the airline said.
British Airways issued a similar message on its Twitter page.
“We note the Prime Minister’s announcement of a new national lockdown for England to slow the spread of COVID-19. Like other businesses, we are assessing the new information and we will keep our customers updated on any changes to their travel plans,” the airline said.
A ban on non-essential international travel for all UK residents, announced by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week, came into force today.
“People cannot travel internationally or within the UK, unless for work, education or other legally permitted exemptions,” British Prime Minister Johnson said.
“Overnight stays away from primary residences will not be allowed, except for specific exceptions, including for work. Inbound international travel will continue to be governed by the travel corridor approach and those currently on a domestic holiday will be allowed to finish their holidays, but are still subject to the requirements in England not to go out without a reasonable excuse.”
Meanwhile, Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) Rudy Grant is also watching the unfolding situation in the important British market.
“The expectation is that we will have a falloff in business. Airlines are expected to reduce the number of flights coming out of the UK.
“Two operators are not allowed to promote travel packages and that measure will have an impact on the number of persons coming into Barbados,” Grant said in a statement.
British Airways is expected to suspend its three weekly flights out of the London Gatwick airport, and local employees are expecting cancellations after November 9, but it is unclear what will happen with BA’s service out of London Heathrow. Virgin Atlantic, the other major UK carrier has given no clear indication of its plans.
On the positive side, is the CEO’s claim that the demand for ‘brand Barbados’ remains strong, and with the right strategies in place from entities like the BHTA, the Ministry of Tourism and the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc., and workers’ representatives, a smooth return to service would occur after the lockdown.
In the meantime, he added that the current focus would be on enhancing product offerings, upscaling workers, and identifying innovative strategies to push the industry forward.
“The tourism industry will rebound and will recover. In discussions with tour operators, they have informed us that Barbados is still their number one selling destination in the Caribbean.
“There are still a number of persons who are interested in coming to Barbados and desiring to travel to our island. It is a challenging period, but we remain very positive, recognizing the reality of the situation, but also preparing for when more airlift returns out of the UK, and being in a position that we can benefit, and that hotels, restaurants, attractions, taxi operators, car rental operators and vendors will benefit from the return of business,” Grant concluded.
The UK, Barbados’ largest source market for visitors to these shores, has been wrestling to contain more than one million confirmed cases of coronavirus. Some 47 000 people have died in Britain from the virus.
The development comes as Barbados and other Caribbean destinations have been pinning their hopes on a pickup of travel to revive their tourism sectors which have been battered by the global fallout of travel triggered by COVID-19.
Back on August 1, Virgin Atlantic resumed flights to Barbados after a three-month hiatus and, according to the airline, interest in the destination has been strong.
In fact, the airline was already anticipating that the month-long British lockdown could in fact trigger a stronger demand for travel that could benefit Barbados and other Caribbean destinations.
The airline is also on track to restart its Manchester to Barbados route in December to supplement its London Heathrow Service.
“We believe there will be lots of pent-up demand from sun-seekers for winter sun and Easter bookings and we are ready to support this with our award-winning customer service and product as our customers feel ready to take back to the skies,” said.
The carrier added that it would examine new arrangements to ensure safer travel.
“By the time the new national restrictions begin to ease in December, we need to have a passenger testing regime in place in the UK to safely replace quarantine and support economic recovery, which relies on free-flowing trade and tourism,” said Virgin Atlantic.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mia Mottley said Wednesday that the Government had put in place measures to keep the tourism sector and workers afloat.
“Prime Minister Johnson . . . announced on Saturday, a second shutdown. It would have been a disruptive influence for us had we not already planned on putting in place the arrangements, not for one or two months, but for 24 months to support the wages of our . . . entire tourism sector, should persons want it,” she said, as she made reference to the Barbados Employment and Sustainable Tourism (BEST) programme.
A major plank of the two-part $300 million BEST programme is the provision of grants to cover tourism firms’ re-engagement with their workers and a limited voluntary separation package. It is also designed to fund the firms’ investment plans.
Under the initiative, which was implemented over a month ago, Government gives companies an equity investment to enable them to offer workers a re-engagement programme for 24 months, at 80 per cent of their pay as at December 2019, up to a limit of $4 880 per month.