Tourism players cautious as new variant continues to spread

Tourism officials are hoping for the best but bracing for the worst, as the latest COVID-19 variant runs rampant in many of this country’s main tourism markets.

Minister of Tourism and International Transport, Senator Lisa Cummins is, however, expressing confidence in public health protocols that allow most vaccinated travellers to enter the country without being tested on arrival.

While declaring that four previous run-ins with variants of concern provide a solid foundation for the national response, she admitted that new policies in other countries could hamper the reboot.

“We are in a much better position to make decisions that are data and science-driven. But in addition to that, we also are in a position to see how our source markets typically respond to the changes,” Cummins told Barbados TODAY.

“Sometimes they go into lockdown, sometimes they go into travel bans, sometimes, as one market has already started to say to its nationals ‘if you are travelling over the holidays, we can’t guarantee that you’re going to get back in’.

“That is something that we have seen since February 2020. It is not unusual. And, so, we have planned for the best possible winter season but we have also anticipated that it could turn the opposite direction very, very quickly. That has been the nature of the last 22 months and so we pivot as we need to,” the Tourism Minister added.

Chairman of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA), Geoffrey Roach recently revealed that widespread concern overseas about Omicron was not yet resulting in cancellations.

In fact, Senator Cummins has touted multiple packed flights out of North America on American Airlines and JetBlue as well as from the United Kingdom through Virgin Atlantic.

British officials are reporting a “tidal wave” of new cases, with infections doubling every two to three days, and the medical fraternity is calling for tougher restrictions.

Meanwhile, the Government of Barbados has opened the door to parties and larger social gatherings, as new infections fall near the height of the Christmas season.

Senator Cummins, however, stressed that in all cases, both locals and visitors are held to the same duty to observe the country’s protocols.

“When people come to Barbados, they come to enjoy themselves and they come to Barbados and they enjoy themselves within the rules and confines of Barbados, just like Barbadians enjoy Barbados within the confines of the rules,” said Cummins.

“But let us not also try to villainise this because there are people of any nationality…who, wherever they go, whether at home or abroad, will choose not to follow the rules. I don’t think that that is the majority and therefore should become the basis of our public discourse because the majority of people, visitors and Barbadians, follow the rules,” she added.

The Government Minister noted that the country’s entry protocols were “historically robust”, stressing that even now, the Chief Medical Officer may require vaccinated passengers to be randomly tested at his discretion.

Cummins added that between 80 and 90 per cent of visitors coming into the island are vaccinated and surges of cases are now mainly generated within the local population.

“We have been at this for 22 months, so if by now we haven’t learned what the practices are, then we really would not have taken full advantage of what we’re dealing with.

“When the second lockdown came, we still didn’t have vaccines. We knew more than we did, but we were still learning.

“By the time the third wave came around, we had vaccines…we had secondary sites, vaccine sites, we had all of the virologists, we had epidemiologists, we had a lot of stuff going on. So, each time, our response has been based on data and not reactionary responses,” Minister Cummins said.

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