Tourism officials were on Friday still upbeat about the fate of Barbados’ highly-acclaimed, 12-month, Welcome Stamp programme for remote work, which has taken a major blow from stiff travel restrictions and a surge of coronavirus cases that has prompted strong advisories against coming here.
Minister of Tourism Senator Lisa Cummins confirmed an almost total cessation of travel from key source markets Canada, North America and the United Kingdom, but declared that would-be visitors are still expressing confidence in jumping on board the visa initiative.
She told Barbados TODAY: “Despite what has been happening, one of the things that we have been very overwhelmed here in Barbados is the level of support that we have gotten from our source markets. People have reached out to say ‘we are very supportive of what Barbados is doing. We love the fact that Barbados has been aggressive in trying to fight back the local spread and surge that we are currently experiencing and we remain confident in Barbados as a safe destination.
“And with all of those things in mind, there is still a high level of confidence in the management of COVID-19 and the measures being implemented here in Barbados to date to control the spread of the virus.”
Asked if there has been any push-back from prospective remote workers in the source markets such as cancellations or concerns about still coming to Barbados due to the spike of infections here, Senator Cummins said two major destinations are already out of the picture.
She said: “I have already taken the UK and Canada out of the market. So can be no push-back there. We have a complete cessation of flights from Canada through April. Typically in the middle of the Canadian winter, you are not travelling for leisure to another Winter-based destination. It makes perfect sense in principle, if you want to be able to maintain no movement within your country…the challenge that we are going to experience obviously is that you have people who are just literally tired and overwhelmed by all that has been happening with COVID.”
Senator Cummins said that there are people who are not travelling just for leisure but simply want to have a mental health break.
“And then, if you go on to the US market, they are also dealing with their own surges and they are dealing with the management of that crisis and the roll-out of the vaccine and so on… and there has been a strong response in Barbados to the local surge,” the minister stressed.
“We are currently in a period of lockdown; we are currently rolling out Operation Seek and Save; we are currently in an aggressive push to have vaccines coming into the country; there is ramped up capacity in literally every area. And so, those things have yielded a high level of confidence in our source markets.”
Senator Cummins declared that not many other countries are acting as aggressively as Barbados to control the spread of the virus, giving rise to the notion of Barbados’ seriousness in fighting COVID and making people feel safe here.
Nonetheless, she acknowledged that Barbados’ tourism numbers are significantly low.
Senator Cummins told Barbados TODAY: “During this period we would typically have 220,000 guests. Up until between December and January, we had less than 10,000 guests in total numbers. And that number has plummeted obviously recently. Barbados’ position is that we are not at this time promoting short-stay tourism.
“But at the same time, if people who are able to come and have a negative PCR test and are able to quarantine for five days minimum, still have a second test and be quarantined, go through the rigour of the public health officials and they are coming COVID-free and staying in Barbados for a year, three months or six months… those persons, where there are flights available will come, but the numbers are extremely low,” Senator Cummins stated.
She said that while the Welcome Stamp initiative would not be adversely affected in the long-term, it would obviously be affected now that two major markets have closed.
“You are not going to get any of the flights coming out of Europe, and once you see the UK has closed down you would still obviously have challenges coming from anywhere else because the majority of flights are coming from the UK. You don’t have flights originating from France or anywhere else,” the tourism minister said.
She noted that visitors had been coming from Canada and those “windows” have since closed.
“So you can’t say it has not adversely affected it [Welcome Stamp] when two major markets have closed down,” Senator Cummins said. “But what you can say is that there remains high confidence in the ability of Barbados to contain the surge and it is still seen in our major source markets as a safe destination, not because of the community spread that we are fighting, but because of the response and management of that community spread, that confidence remains high.”
The latest numbers of Welcome Stamp remote workers were not immediately available up to the time of publication. ([email protected])