Any attempt at a full-scale restart of tourism will require a serious rethink of Barbados’ border protocols, enforcement of those protocols, and an honest discussion about the country’s ability to test a high volume of visitors for COVID-19.
This is the consensus between newly-appointed chairman of the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc (BTMI) Roseanne Myers and President of the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners (BAMP) Dr. Lynda Williams as they lamented the second collapse of the vital industry in less than a year as a result of Coronavirus outbreaks.
According to Myers, the country’s next tourism push ought to focus mainly on persons who have been vaccinated and can therefore quarantine for a shorter period.
Failing that, the BTMI chair, who is also General Manager of Atlantis Submarines, explained that mandatory negative tests and extended quarantine would be the order of the day.
“Tourism businesses have to look at what they can do to make that quarantine period a little more palatable for [tourists]. Firstly, they have to know up front that they are going to go into quarantine and for how long, and when they’re in quarantine, we should have the most vibrant local content that gets them excited to get out of quarantine and go see Barbados. So we can’t have the two or three days quarantine as a lost opportunity,” Myers told the Barbados TODAY panel discussion, COVID-19: What now, What’s next? on Sunday night.
The longstanding tourism executive however didn’t mince words on the issue of protocol enforcement that landed a handful of delinquent tourists in the law courts for breaches of quarantine rules. The list of offenders included British celebrity Zara Holland and her boyfriend Elliot who attempted to flee the country when one of them tested positive for COVID-19.
“There are people who don’t [exercise good judgement] regardless of where they come from. That is why we have rules. So you can’t kill a whole industry because you have two or three people that don’t follow them. What we have to do, however, is to go after them and make an example of them and say ‘No. If you come to my country, you have to treat me with respect’
“From a tourism perspective, we have to send out the right message and say what our expectations are. We are not fooling around. You are our visitor, but it is respect that we ask for first,” said the BTMI Chair.
“But we also have to respect people who have spent their hard-earned money and have come to spend time with us, communicate with them properly and demand respect but also give it. And where they step out of line, no one will get my personal support to say ‘give them a break’. I will not, because too much is at stake and they know it,” Myers added.
Dr. Williams meanwhile agreed that any next steps regarding tourism ought to be guided by health experts as she recalled suggestions from BAMP late last year that the mandatory quarantine period for visitors be extended. She also recalled citizens and authorities becoming more relaxed with protocols at a time when more tourists were coming into the country, possibly with new variants of the deadly virus.
Even more important, Dr. Williams explained, is the country’s ability to process thousands of COVID-19 tests from tourists coming into the country.
“It is very important to choose the right protocols and what I wanted to add to this is the need for testing. One of the issues we had is that we could not scale up testing to match the arrivals that occurred at the time that they occurred and once we could not scale up the testing, you ended up with a situation where people were waiting for long periods on test results. We need to anticipate that and prevent it from happening like that again if we are going to open the economy again for tourism, because it’s one thing to go on vacation, but it’s another thing not to get out of quarantine while on vacation. Your expectations change entirely and your view of the country and the brand change entirely and may never recover,” warned the BAMP President.
“Having said that, let me just state again that quarantine is quarantine and if we are quarantining people because they have not been vaccinated or whatever, we have to do it safely and so that we limit the amount of spread. But we need to build up their expectation to see Barbados during that quarantine period and make it as easy and relaxing as possible,” she concluded.