BHTA calls for mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for tourism workers

NILES, IL - NOVEMBER 16: George Rodriguez, RN draws a dose of flu vaccine prior to administering vaccinations at the Maine Town Hall November 16, 2004 in Niles, Illinois. The flu shot program was organized by Advocate Lutheran General Hospital and was an appointment-only event. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

The local hotel and tourism leadership has called on the Mia Mottley administration to immediately introduce mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for all employees across the industry or witness the collapse of a sector that brings in 40 per cent of the island’s precious foreign exchange.

In a paid press statement issued on Sunday following a meeting on Friday, the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) urged the Government to support its call that “all employees within the sector be required to take a COVID-19 vaccine by December 1.”

The BHTA said this would ensure that the country was ready and well-equipped for the official start of the 2021 winter tourist season.

“The BHTA is of the view that unless immediate action is taken, there will be a collapse of the tourism sector that employs directly 16,000 persons and many thousands more in supporting services,”  the hotel and tourism stakeholders warned.

The association said it was “extremely” concerned with the impact of the prevailing COVID-19 environment in Barbados inclusive of workers, businesses and the general economy.

In seeking to ground its case for mandatory vaccines, the BHTA referred to increasing hotel cancellations due to a significant increase in deaths and cases in recent months, the decision by a growing number of intended visitors who are only choosing hotels with fully vaccinated staff, the slow vaccine take up on island and the negative impact on the provision of health care due to an overwhelmed system.

“The existing situation is intolerable and requires immediate action. It is against this background that the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association is calling on the Government of Barbados to immediately institute mandatory vaccinations for all employees in the hospitality and tourism industry, which is deemed high-risk,” the statement said.

“A continued delay in the implementation of this policy will result in increased cancellations as our accommodation members have informed that their guests are increasingly requiring to interact with staff that are fully vaccinated,” the association said.

“Further, our accommodation members are informing that they are experiencing increasing cancellations as a direct result of the low vaccination rate in Barbados and the tourism sector as well, due to the 9 pm curfew and a number of other protocols, which are in place, largely for the protection of those persons who have not been vaccinated,” the statement added.

The hotel and tourism leaders cautioned that the cruise ship sector has also recorded cancellations, which they expect to rise.

They also argued that the efforts by Government to boost vaccine rates have not worked effectively.

“Government’s efforts through providing free testing, free vaccination and free rehabilitative care, coupled with consultations and communication to improve the vaccination rates have been unable to significantly increase the number of persons taking vaccines,” the BHTA said.

The stakeholders explained that the position being advocated by the association is constructed on the need to safeguard and protect workers and the businesses, which facilitate those employees.

The industry leaders have even gone so far as to appeal to the workers’ representatives to support their call for mandatory vaccines.

“The requirement to take vaccines is not new for the hospitality and tourism sector. The BHTA and the Barbados Workers’ Union have previously agreed that housekeeping employees whose jobs require handling of guests’ linens and cleaning of guests’ rooms and public areas shall be vaccinated against Hepatitis B virus and Tetanus as per the established medical protocols for this vaccination,” the hoteliers recalled.   They contend that the COVID-19 disease is significantly more contagious and dangerous than the Hepatitis B virus.

The industry leaders said that for the past nine months they have been pleading with the government to address several issues in the sector, but to date, no meaningful progress has been made on the matters.

“The delayed responses by the Government of Barbados to the tourism sector is of great concern to the association and reeks of a dismissive attitude towards an industry that is a significant contributor to the economic and social fabric of the island,” the hoteliers said.

The BHTA said it is ready to meet with the Government and dialogue on the areas of concern.