There is growing anxiety among tourism operators in Barbados as they face the possibility of losing business if their employees are not fully vaccinated.
According to several key tourism figures, travellers were beginning to either request that only vaccinated staff serve them, or indicate they would only stay at properties where all the workers are vaccinated.
Some third-party operators have also been enquiring about the level of vaccination at hotel properties before they make bookings for their clients.
But with a vaccination rate among tourism and hospitality industry workers of just over 30 per cent, officials of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) have formally requested a meeting with the Ministry of Tourism to fully discuss the matter of vaccination.
The issue came up for discussion on Wednesday during the BHTA annual general meeting, which was held virtually and attended by Minister of Labour Colin Jordan.
Jordan indicated that while Government had not taken a decision on how tourism and hospitality sector leaders should treat to vaccination of their staff, he warned that vaccination was not mandatory in Barbados and therefore they should not do things that would force workers to take the jab or that would come across as being discriminatory.
While warning of the need to carefully balance economic activity and the rights of individuals, Jordan said he would be organizing a meeting with officials from the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Tourism to start robust discussions on what measures could be put in place to encourage vaccination in the industry.
“I will be helping us to get the meeting so that we can have the conversation and move this matter forward, just in case there needs to be anything done from a legislative perspective that would give support to whatever the decision is,” he promised.
Patricia Affonso-Dass, Group General Manager of the Ocean Hotels Group and immediate past president of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, raised the issue, stating that some in the industry were raising concerns that while there were “strict protocols” for individuals entering the island, a staff member who has not been tested or vaccinated was entering the workplace and possibly mixing with other workers and guests.
“I do feel when you are trying to balance your message to the public, other team members and your ability to reach international standards with respect to source markets requirements for reopening, I do think it is something that we really need to have an open discussion about, recognizing that we all have our health and safety first – those of our team members, businesses and our guests – so that we can ensure that the policies, position or way we move forward is connected,” said Affonso-Dass.
“You cannot be sending one message to one group of people and a completely different message to someone else because then that message has no integrity. So I would welcome a conversation . . . to come up with something a bit more cohesive and give everybody a sense of comfort and consideration,” she said.
Meanwhile, Chief Executive Officer of the Terra Caribbean Group Andrew Mallalieu painted a more worrying picture for an industry that was already struggling to emerge from its stagnation over the past year.
“I would like to say that certainly for the villa industry, what we are seeing is a demand [from] guests who are coming. They are saying ‘we are only interested in staying in a villa whose staff is fully vaccinated’. So, in our industry, what that would mean is that certain properties where the staff have been fully vaccinated will see higher occupancy,” he explained.
“It also means where there are options for staff, where it is a particular chef, housekeeper, or laundress, it is those who have been vaccinated who will likely get the most work . . . . Even when we don’t mandate that you must get a vaccination because it is your right to decline, you must also realize it is the right of the guest to choose what property they stay at and who they interact with.
“So I think there are going to be some market forces that, ultimately, if you are unable to work in the industry because you are not vaccinated, perhaps you will rethink your position on that. That is some market information that already we are seeing,” Mallalieu added.
General Manager of Cobblers Cove Hotel Joanna Roterberg also raised a similar concern, adding that “we are receiving more and more questions by our partners aboard in our source markets about the status of our employees”.
“We have had visitors arrive at the hotel and have insisted to be only served by staff that were vaccinated. So we are obviously very concerned . . . going into the [winter tourist] season with busier occupancy and very few staff being vaccinated. What is the suggestion by Government or how do you see us moving forward?” she questioned.
“The operators are basically saying . . . their customers are asking them what is the status of hotels and properties abroad before they can make recommendations.”
Responding to the questions and concerns, Jordan stressed the need for discussion, while suggesting that the measures being taken by the cruise and airline industries could influence what decision is taken.
“This Government does not make decisions and impose them on people without first having the conversation. That has not been our style before pandemic or during pandemic. We always talk with people. So, whatever decision we make it is going to be a decision that comes out of a conversation. It may or may not be the decision whoever we are talking with wants, but it is not going to be a decision that is made without the input,” the Labour Minister assured.