UPDATE: Grenada’s government announced on June 28 that it would not reopen on July 1 as originally planned. More details can be found here.
TORONTO — When it comes to reopened destinations, Antigua and Barbuda were the first in the Caribbean out of the gate with commercial flights resuming on June 4. Now, the island nation is serving as a model for success for other soon-to-reopen destinations, like Grenada.
In a Facebook Live update yesterday hosted by the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), the Ministers of Tourism of both Caribbean destinations addressed such topics as airport protocols, health & safety measures and ongoing reopening plans.
Charles “Max” Fernandez, Minister of Tourism of Antigua and Barbuda, confirmed that since opening Antigua’s airport to commercial traffic on June 4, there has been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 from arriving visitors. He credits the country’s success in mitigating the spread of the virus to a blanket-wide approach that spans all segments of the tourism sector.
“We made sure everything was put in place before reopening and conducted training for hotels to immigration to taxi companies,” he said. “We covered the entire tourism chain and we feel very confident that we’ve done everything possible to stop the virus from coming in and from spreading between our own people.”
As part of its gradual reopening plans, 26% of room nights in Antigua and Barbuda are currently open, with another 10% opening in July-August. In October, another 32% will reopen, and the final 32% will follow soon after.
As for flights, there is currently one flight per day flying into Antigua, which will increase to 12 per week in July and 20+ in October. Currently, the destination is averaging 75-100 visitors during the week, and about 120 on weekends.
All visitors must undergo a series of assessments upon arrival at V.C. Bird International Airport, including the completion of a health declaration form and temperature checks, and some may also be subject to a PCR test to identify the COVID-19 virus. The test costs US$100 (payable by all visitors to the Quarantine Authority), the results of which will take approximately 48 hours. Testing is conducted on visitors staying at an approved hotel facility, those who show symptoms, or those whose health assessment questionnaire raises an alarm.
Noting the added expense of testing for visitors, Fernandez said the destination hopes to administer rapid, more affordable testing soon.
The Quarantine Authority will determine whether a visitor needs to be quarantined, which can be done at a private home, hotel, yacht/sea vessel, dormitory facility or at a designated government facility.
If a visitor starts to develop symptoms while in destination, Fernandez said protocols have been implemented at hotels and resorts to immediately quarantine and treat individuals. Protective measures have also been introduced for local tour operators and excursions, such as limiting capacity and enhanced sanitation, so that every aspect of the travel experience is covered.
All this, said Fernandez, was made possible by involving all stakeholders and unions in the process. This was his single, most important piece of advice to Grenada’s Minister of Tourism, Dr. Clarice Modeste-Curwen.
“Even after we opened the airport, we still continue to meet our stakeholders and have a recovery task force meeting every week. We’re monitoring as we go along, and that is the most important thing,” said Fernandez. “We have trained over 1500 people, we even went to Barbuda to train all the stakeholders over there. Our intention is to give that confidence to our people who work in the sector and to our visitors, to reassure them that we’re doing everything possible to mitigate against any kind of spread.”
Modeste-Curwen, who confirmed that Grenada’s airport will reopen on July 1, credited the “spirit of the Caribbean” and the “wonderful partnership among tourism ministers” for the region’s successful approach to the pandemic. She applauded Antigua’s rapid response and said similar measures, including temperature screenings, quarantine rooms and staff training, will be implemented in her home country. A full list of health and safety protocols is expected to be released by the government this week.
To prepare for its eventual reopening, Grenada welcomed its first flight of any significant size last week, which was used to repatriate Grenada nationals. Meant to be a “test run” for future safety protocols, the flight, said Modeste-Curwen, was a good opportunity to try out protocols first with our locals.
“I’m extremely happy with what went on at the airport – everyone came with masks and were distancing. And I’m even more pleased with the reviews we’ve gotten from the locals who came in. Overall, it was a very good learning experience and will serve us well with flights to come,” she said.
Modeste-Curwen anticipates that either on July 1 or close to that date, “we’ll see some flights coming in.” She listed JetBlue, American Airlines and Air Canada as among the first airlines anticipated to arrive.
Similar to Antigua, visitors to Grenada are subject to testing upon arrival, which will cost them EC$200 (approximately US$75). Masks are mandatory upon arrival, which Modeste-Curwen says has been proven to save lives. She’s also in favour of airlines removing middle seats on planes to further protect passengers.
And though travel insurance is not required for both Antigua and Grenada, both Ministers recommend it for all visitors.
For more information go to https://visitantiguabarbuda.com/travel-advisory/ and http://www.grenadagrenadines.com/.