Faced with huge economic challenges after the vital tourism industry has been decimated by COVID-19 Caribbean countries are cautiously reopening.
One of the biggest challenges which they are now desperate to turn into a marketing opportunity is visitor health-safety.
Regional health and tourism authorities have announced a joint initiative of comprehensive health safety guidelines aimed at safeguarding the health of both visitors and industry employees.
The scheme is organised by the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) and the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) through their COVID-19 Caribbean Tourism Task Force.
An initial set of guidelines includes detailed checklists backed by health safety training for various tourism industry sectors, including ground transportation, accommodation providers, food and beverage, and attractions.
At its core are “comprehensive health safety guidelines supported by an aggressive training schedule aimed at reaching thousands of the region’s tourism employees in the coming weeks and months.”
According to the task force, general health-safety protocols have also been created and will be supported with training delivered by the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) to a wide cross-section of employees and owners in the tourism industry.
Companies in the region which participate in the training will be recognized, and accommodation providers which also join CARPHA’s online Tourism Health Information System (THiS) will be eligible to receive the Caribbean Travel Health Assurance (CTHA) Stamp, further assuring to travellers about the regional industry’s commitment to health safety.
The scheme results from a partnership established over five years ago by the lead agencies.
“Recognizing the severe negative impact which COVID-19 could have on the tourism-dependent economies of the region, CARPHA, the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) and the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) started working on COVID-19 preventative and education initiatives early in February.”
This led to setting up the COVID-19 Caribbean Tourism Task Force a month later between CARPHA, CTO and CHTA.
It was later joined by the Jamaica-based Global Tourism Resiliency and Crisis Management Centre (GTRCMC) and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States Commission (OECSC).
“We started working with this (initiative) in January with the Member States and we have been leading the regional health response in this matter of COVID-19. Public health is our mandate, and in looking at how we can ensure we open up to tourism safely, we had guidance from not only our own technical sources but also the guidance and the wisdom of those in the field," said Dr Joy St. John, CARPHA’s Executive Director.
The participating agencies say the new procedures are not intended to replace specific national and territorial guidelines, or those being put in place by specific hotels and the industry. Instead, they are meant to reinforce and complement existing policies which have been drawn up to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Issuing the guidelines and starting the training of industry stakeholders while navigating the changing nature of the industry and the global economy are said to be urgent priorities.
The initiative will also provide support particularly to the independent hotels, tourism-related businesses, and smaller destinations which lack the expertise or resources to develop their own protocols.
The task force said it carried out a review with a cross-section of Caribbean tourism stakeholders into the health safety protocols and guidelines for tourism protocols issued by several destinations, industry enterprises, and regional agencies.
The new protocols are now synced with global protocols, including those of the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), and the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).
The leadership of both CHTA and CTO expressed their commitment to the engagement of tourism and industry partners in improving and maintaining health and safety standards throughout the region and were thankful for the expertise of the partners in delivering an impressive compilation of protocols.
CHTA CEO Frank Comito and CTO Acting Secretary-General Neil Walters said such collaborative partnerships are critical to the success of the tourism sector on which many countries and territories depend for their economic survival.
Also joining in the launch were Dr Didicus Jules, Director General for the OECSC; Dr Lloyd Waller, Executive Director for the GTRCMC; and CHTA President Patricia Affonso-Dass.