With exactly two weeks to go before Barbados starts welcoming tourists back to the island, tourism officials are now concerned about the likely effect of a warning from the US Government to Americans not to come here.
Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) Senator Rudy Grant stopped short of saying the advisory was unwarranted but noted that it came at a time when the tourism industry continued to suffer its worst-ever crisis from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While it is certainly of concern and something we have to pay attention to, it is happening at a time when the level of visitor arrivals and the activity within the tourism sector has been significantly reduced,” said Grant.
But he said he was confident that the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. (BTMI) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will “deal with this issue”.
On Wednesday, the US State Department issued a Level 4 “do not travel” advisory against Barbados as a COVID-19 risk nation, among 130 others, about 80 per cent of the world’s countries.
Washington announced that Barbados, along with St Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, St Vincent and the Grenadines had been given the rating to fall in line with travel health notices from the Centres for Disease Control and Protection (CDC).
But given the low COVID-19 positivity rate, which officials have put around two per cent for the past week, Grant said he was very concerned about the advisory and its impact as the country prepares to start welcoming visitors on May 8.
The BHTA leader said: “Of course, as you know the directives, the new travel protocols are being put in place for May 8 when we expect to see international travel coming back.
“Certainly, we are moving in the right direction where the percentage of persons actually contracting the virus is significantly below the five per cent [positivity rate] that is the international standard.
“So yes, the advisory is a cause for concern particularly in an environment where it can clearly be demonstrated that the actions that were undertaken by the Ministry of Health and Wellness have resulted in the infection rate being significantly reduced, and is happening at a time when we have that positive result.
“So it would be of concern. Of course, it does require us to continue practising social distancing, washing of our hands, ensuring that we engage in all of the correct practices, particularly at a time when we are looking to encourage more visitors to come to Barbados. While the travel protocols are being put in place we are making sure that persons adhere to those protocols.
“Yes, the travel advisory that is issued is of concern, but at the same time, I think there are measures that are instituted to demonstrate that there has been good and proper management of the COVID-19.”
In a national COVID-19 update Thursday evening, Prime Minister Mia Mottley said she found the US advisory “difficult to swallow”, but praised the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for its response, as she too pointed to the reduction in COVID-19 positive cases.
“We need to bring those numbers down but I found it difficult that this strong travel advisory could be meted out to us and other countries that have been on a downward trajectory,” said Mottley.
Grant told Barbados TODAY that a lot of the tourism business that Barbados will get from May 8 will depend heavily on what was taking place in key source markets, adding that discussions were ongoing to see how airlift will return to the island.
He pointed out that hotel occupancy for the months of January, February and March this year was significantly lower than in 2020 when the pandemic began.
Grant said: “In January we had an occupancy of 33 per cent, which was a decline of 55.5 per cent. In February that occupancy was 15.8 per cent, a decline of 80.4 per cent, and in March the occupancy was 18 per cent, a decline of 62.8 per cent.
“You will recall that it was in March that we had the first COVID-19 positive cases reported and it was in March as well that the initial directives and the COVID-19 measures were instituted and at that time we saw occupancy declined 48.4 per cent, but as I said, it is recorded for this year at 80 per cent.”
He said he expected similar declines for the month of April, with the occupancy level for this month being “anywhere from 15 to 18 per cent”.