Pressure on Caribbean tourism

Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister, Gaston Browne.
Photo by George Alleyne, file

Wilting under the economic squeeze brought on by closed air and sea borders as a means of containing spread of COVID-19, a few of the tourism dependent Caribbean countries have cautiously re-opened their airports, while others are exploring the idea.

As of Wednesday Jamaica, St. Lucia, US virgin Iislands, St. Barts, and Antigua and Barbuda all opened their airports to visitors at varioous dates this month starting from June 01, with the Bahamas set to open its air gateway on July 01, and Aruba and Turks and Caicos to follow later in the month.

In Barbados, Prime Minister Mia Mottley began talks among what is termed the social partnership – government, trade unions and the private sector — seeking agreement on a a date for opening the island to non-national arrivals at its air and seaport.

Emphasizing the crucial importance for the island’s economy to again be welcoming and hosting visitors since its lockdown some three months ago, Mottley said, “in many respects, we die if we don’t and we also die, if we do.”

She explained that her current social partnership meetings are aimed at a consensus among all those who will be at risk of a COVID-19 resurgence, “what is at stake is not just lives and livelihoods but indeed also the Barbadian way that reflects consultation. … after consultation, the government reserves the right to decide and to act.”

Antigua PM, Gaston Browne had similar sentiments.

“Unless we open our borders and restore our economy, we face another powerful enemy – economic collapse, high unemployment, overwhelming poverty, and no financial means to sustain ourselves,”’ he said..

“This is a time to face the inescapable truth — frankly and boldly — that we cannot take the unviable, risk-averse decision, to keep our country’s borders closed.

“Unless the economy is reopened and every possible thing is done to rebuild it; the challenges we now confront will not be overcome any time soon. That is why we must not hesitate to act and to act now.”

Caribbean territories with the exception of Haiti have been relatively successful in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic with Cuba reportedly leading with 84 deaths and Jamaica a distant second with 10 fatalities.

The need to urgently resume the Caribbean tourism trade is also felt by international air service providers including American Airlines, which the Antigua PM reportedly said is pressuring regional governments to set firm dates for re-opening of their airports.

“I know for example that American Airlines would have read the riot act to a few Caribbean countries and would have said to them that if they do not give a specific timeline as to when they will reopen their airports, that they would not be part of their [AA] rotation between now and October.

“So they may have to wait until about November before they can get flights. And I don’t know any country within the Caribbean that is heavily dependent on tourism that would risk not opening before November because of the economic consequences,” PM Browne said.

But this met with a stout denial form Barbados’ Tourism Minister, Kerrie Symmonds, who said, “that is not applicable us, because we never closed our airport formally.”

He told the Nation newspaper that AA had applied no pressure to Barbados and referred to the social partnership meetings through which the island will set its own date for re-opening, “we are in discussions on protocols and other related specifics regarding the resumption of commercial traffic.”