L to R: Amelie Brouhard & Gary C. Sadler

Will pre-testing hurt resort bookings? Sandals and Club Med respond

TORONTO — A new trend has emerged in the Caribbean as a result of the global pandemic: mandatory pre-testing for travellers prior to entry.

Antigua, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Costa Rica, Curacao, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, St. Kitts, St. Lucia and St. Maarten have all implemented the new rule as a way to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Those who take an approved COVID-19 PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test prior to travel and achieve a negative result will be allowed entry; those who fail to present a negative test result will be denied and/or forced to quarantine for up to two weeks in destination.

Pre-testing is just one added hurdle for Canadians who are already contending with Canada’s advisory against non-essential travel, a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon return home, and a lack of travel insurance options that cover COVID-19. But Travelweek wanted to know: will pre-testing further deter Canadians from booking a vacation?

We asked Sandals and Club Med, both considered pioneers in the all-inclusive genre, whether they think pre-testing will impact forward bookings.

Gary C. Sadler, Senior Vice President – Sales at Unique Vacations Inc., an affiliate of Unique Travel Corp., worldwide representatives of Sandals Resorts and Beaches Resorts, believes that visitors will respond positively to the added protocols and that these new requirements will make them feel more comfortable when choosing a destination.

“As an industry, we were prepared to expect that a global pandemic would change the way we travel, but what hasn’t changed is the level of trust that travel advisors and their clients have in the Sandals and Beaches brand,” he tells Travelweek. “We stay in constant communication with local governments across the Caribbean – the sharing of information has never been as important for the greater good of the region. With these new requirements, coupled with our industry-leading Sandals Platinum Protocols of Cleanliness, our guests can book with more confidence than ever.”

Sandals, which operates resorts in Antigua, The Bahamas, Barbados, Grenada and St. Lucia where pre-testing is required, is optimistic for the future and is seeing positive trends in the upcoming winter season and into 2021, says Sadler.

“We are hearing from our customers from around the world that they are ready to come to Sandals. Family travel is trending upwards and we’re definitely seeing that growth continue at Beaches Resorts, too. Right now, we’re seeing an upward tick of bookings in our larger 2+ bedroom family suites that can hold an entire family in one single space, simply because families want to spend more time together after being apart for so many months,” he says.

Club Med’s Amelie Brouhard, VP Canada and Mexico, says that despite the fact that pre-testing adds to already existing barriers to travel and increases confusion for clients and travel agents at the time of booking, in this new reality it’s important to take the necessary actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“The first priority of every destination and tourism player should remain to welcome travellers safely and protect the local workforce in contact with them,” she says. “This perception of complexity [as a result of pre-testing] should fade with time. Throughout our surveys and listening to the market, we believe that Canadians still have a strong desire to travel next winter.”

Club Med, which has resorts  in the Dominican Republic and The Bahamas where pre-testing is required, recently conducted a survey that found that over 70% of Canadian consumers are considering booking a Club Med vacation during the next Winter 2020/2021 season. As a result, the company’s current priority is to promote the Caribbean and Mexico for the season, as well as all-inclusive ski vacations in the Alps. Bookings for winter 2021, says Brouhard, have already started to pick up.

“While we cannot change some of the barriers to travel, we decided to focus on areas we can master to provide further peace of mind and flexibility in our offers,” she adds. “Those components of reassurance begin with a strong promise of measures on-site through our ‘Safe Together’ program, but also a new Assistance program that covers medical expenses related to COVID-19, worldwide, at no extra change. With those measures in place, we feel ready to catch up with the pent-up demand when travel restrictions ease up.

“What we know is that the pandemic has shown how tourism is important for the worldwide economy. The industry generates millions of jobs, and it needs to rebound safely – and for good.”

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