COVID-19 cases could put ‘green list’ designation in jeopardy

Tourism stakeholders are already seeing increased airlift and hotel bookings from the United Kingdom, mere weeks after easing COVID-19 restrictions on travellers returning from the previously amber-listed island.

Officials from the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) are however extremely concerned that the fluctuating COVID-19 situation could place the country’s ‘green list’ designation and other current strides in jeopardy.

Chairman Geoffrey Roach is concerned that even curfew measures like the ones currently in place from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. could deter holidaymakers from opting for Barbados as their destination of choice.

Three weeks ago, the UK Government announced changes to the traffic light system that would allow vaccinated citizens to forgo quarantine when returning from Barbados, thereby opening the local market for much-needed economic activity.

BHTA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Senator Rudy Grant confirmed that owing to increasing demand, Virgin Atlantic will be providing at least seven weekly flights from July 26 and 10 from August. He added that the airline will also be sending the larger Airbus A350 aircraft, trends that he expects will extend to their direct competitor, British Airways.

“What we have also seen is that almost instantaneously with the announcement of Barbados being put on the green list, the bookings have been significantly increasing,” Grant told Barbados TODAY.

The BHTA executive further revealed that bookings for the remainder of July that were initially around 20 per cent, are now trending near 30 per cent with even more promising numbers for the remainder of the year.

“The projections are that we would see forward bookings of about 20 per cent in October and then November, December in the 50s and this is still at a stage where we are a few months off of the winter period. So we are anticipating that we will see, for winter, occupancy in excess of 50 per cent.

“While right now the projections are that we will have occupancy of 30 per cent certainly for the months of July, August, September, we do anticipate that we will have a better summer than would have been initially thought and the winter would have been one where we would have reasonable business,” he added.

But the country’s fluctuating COVID situation is a major concern for BHTA Chairman Roach, who lamented that within days of being removed from the UK’s green list, curfew measures were once again imposed in the midst of a worrying spike in cases.

“Any increase in cases is a concern for us, simply because we know that the source markets are looking on. I don’t believe they will make a change just because of a marginal rise in cases, but certainly, once we have a rise, then there is the potential that once you do your contact tracing etcetera that you could discover more cases. If it reaches a level where it really gets significant, then there is the risk, specifically with the UK’s traffic light system, that potentially we could be removed from the green list,” Roach contended.

Like other players in the business community, both the chairman and CEO of the BHTA are calling for a more aggressive vaccination campaign and stricter adherence to the protocols.

Roach further noted that even if the current green light system holds, extensions to the existing curfew and/or other restrictive measures will “hamper” business activity in tourism and other sectors.

“The truth is that although the current directives are not as stringent as we would have operated under at one point in time, any directive that serves to kind of slow down or hamper business activity whether it be tourism or otherwise is not good for us and is not good for the country,” said Roach.

“People are willing to travel, but they are willing to travel within reason, and the more you see these sorts of occurrences where the Government, out of necessity, has to implement curfews and restrictions, the less likely it is that people will choose Barbados as a vacation destination. So those potentially good numbers that Rudy spoke about later in the year could be jeopardized if these sorts of stops and starts continue,” the BHTA Chairman concluded.

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