Submitted by Richard Petko
In the past few days Governor of the Central Bank Cleviston Haynes and economist Jeremy Stephen provided varying opinions on when the local economy will rebound. Whatever the date, it is crystal clear the primary driver of the economy is tourism and until it returns in force, Barbados will be subject to an unsustainable unemployment rate of over 30%. In both cases the opinions assume the revival of tourism is highly dependent on a drop in cases coupled with vaccine rollout. Not to discount these reasons, in my opinion these are not the greatest barrier which will suppress a tourism rebound in Barbados.
The inconvenient truth is the policy of quarantine on arrival, mandatory testing and a reality of being sent into isolation for 2-3 weeks is the main deterrent preventing the return of tourists. We have been told that this policy has kept Barbados “safe”. The underlying assumption of this policy being that even one case of Covid is too many. However, the reality is although vaccines are on the horizon there will never be an eradication of Covid, it is endemic. Vaccinated people will catch and spread Covid, as they do Influenza. Government and tourism leaders need to gaze into the mirror and decide what is a realistic goal with managing Covid? The one case is too many mantra is not sustainable and economically foolhardy.
Does Barbados plan on quarantining, testing and isolating travellers for the rest of time? If one case of Covid is too many, why is one case of Influenza not too many? Both are considered lethal pathogens to vulnerable people. Regarding tourism, by mid February there will be 200 million or more UK, USA and Canadian residents who will have either had Covid or been immunized. These people will return to travel with the force of a tsunami. During this US Thanksgiving weekend Americans are travelling in record numbers even with dire warnings from their CDC. Tourists will search for warm weather destinations in the USA, Caribbean and Latin America.
When they search, they will discover Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica, Florida, Brazil and Jamaica have no Covid entry requirements at all. The rest of the Caribbean has the requirement of a negative PCR test from 3-10 days old depending on country. In fact, the only nations that test tourists on arrival with the threat of isolation are Bermuda, Barbados and Cuba.
Travellers will have many options, does one believe that your average traveller will choose to get a pre flight PCR test, quarantine for 3 days in Barbados and then take another PCR test, or will he decide to fly to Negril hassle free. Customers will always choose the path of least resistance when all else is equal. When it comes to a 10-day getaway on a beach in Antigua, Cancun, Cartagena or Barbados it is equal, thus the decision making will come down to the Covid hassle/barrier provided by each country.
Air Canada flights already show the effect of Barbados Covid rules. Air Canada has resumed a full schedule of daily flights to Cancun, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas, whereas Barbados receives 2 flights a week, reduced from the previous daily flights.
The Barbados government should be transparent and truthful to the citizenry regarding future plans for the management of Covid. If it will be the current zero Covid policy then Bajans can prepare and plan for the economy they currently are surviving in. If changes are being undertaken, they need to be enacted rapidly. Tourist agencies are already stating they are receiving a bonanza of enquiries for early 2021 vacations. I firmly believe without changes Barbados tourism will wallow in its current darkness forever.