Nichola Madden-Grieg, the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association’s vice president and chair of its Advocacy Committee said the region must continue to focus efforts on creating herd immunity through vaccinations and continued adherence to coronavirus restrictions.
She made the comments during a CHTA webinar titled Safely Reopening UK-Caribbean travel: A Region Prepared on Friday. She also stressed that from a CHTA perspective, member states are ready and have already been welcoming visitors from other destinations.
Madden-Grieg said that having the lowest infection, hospitalizations and COVID-19 related deaths in the world, with stringent testing requirements in place for entry by all Caribbean jurisdictions, and a low rate of transmission through travel, the region has a compelling case to be given the green light through the UK traffic light system.
“So from that side of things, capacity exists and the ability to deliver the service exists,” she told the forum. “So it is really now on the consumer confidence side, and ensuring that persons have the necessary information, that it is clear, it is concise, and they are able to make decisions and move forward.
“So I think that if we are able to overcome a lot of that noise in the market, and allow consumers to see how they can be able to easily book, where they are going, what the protocols are, and what’s the confidence, then we can definitely see our capacity return to normalcy.”
But the CHTA VP said that Caribbean destinations are focused on ensuring that tourists experience a safe and managed vacation while enjoying an on and off property experience.
Also taking part in the webinar was global tourism and destination marketing expert Carol Hay who noted that Caribbean countries must overcome several challenges in order to safely reopen UK-Caribbean travel.
Hay indicated that “mixed messages” in Britain’s policies and guidelines, costs of COVID tests, the physical process of preparing to travel, and addressing consumer confidence, are some of the challenges the Caribbean must overcome.
The tourism expert said visitors are also anxious to know what type of vacation experience to expect in a COVID-19 environment, and also regarding what to expect when they return home including having to undergo mandatory quarantine.
Hay, Chief Executive Officer of McKenzie Gayle Limited, said: “The average family of four can’t cope with being in one hotel room for three nights, so then you have got to be booking a number of rooms and it is just not how you want to end your vacation.
“The hotels that you stay in are hundreds of pounds per night for not even a luxury type hotel because you have got to have your meals included because you can’t leave that room.
“So yes, I can understand that if someone goes away for 14 nights and then for another 10 nights you are still restricted, it is quite off-putting for a lot of people.
“People have said directly to me that they want to go to the Caribbean, they are waiting to book, but they want to do it when they know for sure that if they come back and then they can quarantine at home, it’s okay.”
Chief Commercial Officer at Virgin Atlantic Airways Juha Jarvinen said the carrier has already been returning to Barbados and Jamaica and will be recommencing flights to Antigua from June while hoping to relaunch to Tobago and Grenada in July, and Cuba.
Jarvien said expects a peak in ticket sales to Caribbean destinations for this summer. But his forecast depends on the UK upgrading the Caribbean from amber to green on its traffic-light travel advisory list.
He said: “I do recommend Caribbean islands get ready as well, assuming that some of the Caribbean islands will fall into the green list next weekend potentially and bookings might be coming in.
“We have definitely seen the trend that immediately when there is a change in the advisory, we see that immediate boost in sales.
“Majority of our bookings to the Caribbean are from the UK so it’s very much local. And of course, we connect to other airlines from Europe as well. But we are doing our calculations based on a UK demand which is definitely in a good place.”
Executive Director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), Dr Joy St John, who also participated in the discussion, said it is important to note that as of May 19, the 26 member states of CARPHA, have recorded 175,000 confirmed cases out of 773,000 in the wider Caribbean and 164 million cases globally.
Dr St John said the Caribbean working in solidarity to fight the pandemic has made a significant impact on the low COVID related death and infection rates.
“We are making sure that we have as close to herd immunity, that is 70 to 90 per cent of the population, vaccinated, as we can and as we speak these campaigns are ongoing,” Dr St John said.