The Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) will be seeking a review of the current COVID-19 protocols as concerns mount that the country could be losing out on business as a result of the remaining restrictions.
Chairman of the BHTA Renée Coppin said she would be seeking a meeting with Government officials and other stakeholders in the coming days, in an effort to make a case for a review of the mask mandate and protocols related to entry to the island.
“The position, if we were to articulate one, is that we believe the testing requirement of vaccinated persons is one that should be reviewed. We also believe that there is room for the mask mandate and there are tweaks that can be made,” she said.
“Masks have an important role to play in combating this virus. None of us denies that. However, there are contexts within which the mask mandate is difficult to police and, based on the science, may not necessarily be implemented in the way it is being done.”
Coppin was speaking on Thursday at a media briefing as she expressed concern that some tourism-related businesses may not make it through the expected gloomy summer months.
“We take very seriously our responsibility as the primary industry, both in relation to the contribution to GDP and in relation to the foreign exchange earnings that this country needs to sustain our way of living. We are constantly looking forward and seeing what needs to be done to ensure that this industry is on track and that we keep delivering on the serious commitment we have to this island and its sustainability and viability,” she said.
The hotelier cautioned that the projection for the month of April was low and as summer approaches, average occupancy levels were hovering around 30 per cent.
“We are very mindful of the fact that this summer really is going to matter in terms of the survivability of many of our businesses and many of our members, and we take that very seriously,” said Coppin.
She said the BHTA would be ensuring that for the upcoming months, Barbados was getting “its fair share of the pie”.
“As it stands, we are aware that Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Belize, Cayman, Curacao, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Puerto Rico, St Lucia and St Maarten have removed testing requirements for fully vaccinated guests.
“In the case of Aruba and the DR, the unvaccinated are also able to come in without any testing requirements. Some of these destinations have also removed mask mandates, which is something that already obtains in our major source markets,” noted Coppin.
She said the BHTA has already requested to meet with the relevant authorities “to have a discussion and to ask that we review all protocols as we go forward to ensure that they are delivering the intended results based on the best science and information that we currently have available to us, with consideration and balancing of the many factors that must be borne in mind as we try to move not just management of this pandemic forward, but this entire country forward”.
During a press conference late Tuesday evening, Minister of Health and Wellness Ian Gooding-Edghill made it clear that despite the call for an ease in some of the COVID-19 measures there would be no change at this point.
In fact, he said he would be exploring the possibility of a ticketing system for individuals who do not adhere to the wearing of masks.
“We are aware of the concerns regarding face masks, but masks are still highly effective in reducing the impact of COVID,” said Gooding-Edghill, who also indicated that despite a spike in positive COVID-19 cases there were no plans to tighten measures either.
However, Coppin said the BHTA members were of the view that Barbados needed to be more mindful of what was happening in key source markets and what potential guests were demanding.
“So, what we are going to be asking for is a review of what exists, and this is what we have always asked for in this industry – that we continue to ensure that what we are doing matches both the science, the environment and ensuring that we are balancing the needs that we have to in order to keep this island open and going. I don’t think at this stage there can be any other requirement,” Coppin contended.
Chief Executive Officer of the BHTA Rudy Grant reported that while more than 50 per cent of the visitor arrivals for the months of January and February were from the UK, that number was quickly falling because prospective travellers were choosing other destinations that did not have the same restrictions as Barbados.
“At the end of the day, I think it is about finding the balance,” said Grant.
“Certainly, the tour operators coming out of the United Kingdom have indicated to us that there are certain destinations that are now selling better than Barbados. That is the reality. That is not the BHTA holding a position. It is the BHTA communicating exactly what is happening in the market place and, the truth is, those are things to which we have to pay attention.
“What we want to do is have that opportunity to sit and talk with Government to see where, collaboratively, we may be able to still find a way to ensure that Barbados continues to sell well as a tourist destination,” Grant added.