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Ease strict COVID-19 protocols or ‘forget tourism’

Article by
Marlon Madden

One of Barbados’ leading hoteliers is sounding the alarm that two of his hotels could close in the coming months for an indefinite period and that Barbados could continue to witness a very depressed tourism product if steps are not urgently taken to ease COVID-19 measures and ensure improvements in the tourism industry by this November.

Gordon Seale, owner of the 130-room all-inclusive Sugar Bay Barbados Beach Resort and the over 100-room Bougainvillea Beach Resort, suggested that there needed to be some easing of the protocols soon including the length of time a visitor was required to wait in quarantine for the results of a second COVID-19 test.

He said that while he understood measures were needed to curtail the spread of the COVID-19 virus and there was no crystal ball from which to see the future, he believed authorities could plan in a way that would allow for hoteliers to better structure their operations and “know where we are going”.

“In other words, are we likely to be in a situation in August that we will be able to take fully vaccinated people coming in without the protocols? If we continue to say that people have to go into quarantine, you can forget tourism. As long as you are talking about five days before people are allowed out, forget tourism. I would actually close both of my hotels,” said Seale.

“I would have to close both hotels until such time as we could get back to some sort of normalcy. It is not possible for the island to survive . . . If we don’t get these two next winter seasons in, meaning that if by November we are not fully reopen without any restrictions, you can forget it. There is not going to be any money there to pay anybody on this island. There just won’t be money. So we have to do something to get past that,” warned Seale, who insisted that the fragile Barbados economy simply could not handle a prolonged depressed tourism industry.

Seale, who said he was pleased with the speed at which the vaccination programme was administered to just over 49,757 people up to Tuesday, is hoping that the answer to quickly fully reopening the country would be to reach herd immunity against the COVID-19 virus.

He was speaking on Wednesday during the first quarterly general meeting of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) for this year, which was held under the theme Tourism: Surviving Beyond COVID-19.

Seale said he saw no reason for open-air dining still being restricted, adding that all was needed was for those establishments to continue to observe and enforce the protocols.

Adding that the same could be said for the use of swimming pools, he pointed out that while “normal” occupancy at the Bougainvillea property would be about 300 people, it was now between six and eight people.

“Not that we think you will go back to that situation, but it would have been nice if they had been allowed to use the pool at least one room at a time. I am mentioning it in case we go back into that situation,” he said.

The businessman also dismissed suggestions that people were unnecessarily visiting supermarkets multiple times, stating that he was not in favour of the current restrictions for grocery shopping.

“My recommendation would have been to open the supermarkets for the full extent that the actual movement is allowed in the island. So if it is 6 o’clock in the morning until 7 o’clock at night, the supermarkets should be open seven days a week from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m. That way you would cut down forcing people into these dense lines that you see. I would love to see that happen,” said Seale.

In his response, Chief Medical Officer Dr Kenneth George indicated that there could be some softening of the protocols soon, adding that authorities were not ignoring the calls from the tourism sector.

“We are going to be making changes to the protocols which I am sure will give persons on this call a bit more comfort with respect to the movement of persons. We in the ministry are not tone-deaf to your sector. We fully understand the issues surrounding tourism and it being a major driver of the economy so we will continue to work together,” Dr George told the online meeting.

Meanwhile, President of the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners (BAMP) Dr Lynda Williams explained that a number of factors had to be taken into consideration when making a decision to relax or tighten the COVID-19 measures.

Acknowledging that the five-day stay in quarantine while awaiting a second COVID-19 test and the delay in the return of some of those results had resulted in “some damage” to the Barbados brand, Dr Williams said:  “What we are proposing is that we must move to the place that if we say we are going to get back our results for tourists in 12 to 24 hours then that is what we do.

“We may also have to move to a place where we may want to consider that people go into quarantine in particular hotels where we can maintain the strictness of those standards but still allow them to do some activities within that hotel. Those have to be hotels that are strongly policed and [there is] significant monitoring of the people,” she said.

“That is what we are suggesting could be a way forward, as a way out of people coming here and being in a room. That is a situation we don’t want. So looking and learning from all those things in the past we are now in a place to move forward so that these things don’t happen again,” said Dr Williams.

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