Gay Nagle Myers
The recent CDC testing requirement is the latest challenge facing the tourism industry in the Caribbean.
The bottom line for U.S. travelers vacationing in the Caribbean: After Jan. 26, proof of a negative Covid test (PCR or antigen) taken no more than three days prior to boarding their return flight to the U.S. will be required. Anyone who has tested positive for Covid-19 in the last three months must show documentation of recovery, which includes proof of the positive test and a letter from a healthcare provider providing clearance to travel.
The test requirement will likely send some vacationers scrambling to find testing locations, and then anxiously await results, instead of spending their last days in the islands relaxing on the white-sand beaches.
A similar Covid-19 test requirement by Canada took effect on Jan. 7 and by the U.K. on Jan. 15, which requires that all passengers flying to these countries present negative test results to facilitate entry or avoid self-quarantine.
Most Caribbean destinations already require negative Covid test results prior to arrival, with the exception of the Dominican Republic, although the new regulation requires travelers in the DR to be tested prior to their return to the U.S.
The CDC said that it hoped that the testing requirement would slow the spread of the virus, which is now surging in the U.S., even as the slow vaccine rollout continues.
CDC Director Robert Redfield acknowledged that testing “does not eliminate all risk, but when combined with staying home and everyday precautions like wearing masks and social distancing can make travel safer, healthier and more responsible by reducing spread on planes, in airports and at destinations.”
Lindsey Epperly, founder and CEO of Epperly Travel in Atlanta, said that the impact of the new CDC rules on testing in the Caribbean “will vary not only by location but also by resort choices.
“Quite a few resorts already have excellent access to testing on site,” she added. “This eliminates the hurdle of finding a testing site, which makes it easier for travelers to continue on with their vacation experience and obtain the test result within the time frame necessary.”
The Hyatt Zilara Cancun.
Properties across the Caribbean and Mexico are racing to launch Covid-19 testing.
Epperly Travel is working to advise clients on the ever-changing restrictions and guidelines related to Covid entry regulations, according to Epperly.
“We are providing our clients as clear a picture of their options as possible and neither encouraging nor discouraging travel,” she said. “It is up to each client to determine their comfort level with traveling internationally and, for many, this is simple one additional hurdle that they are willing to undergo in order to take their vacation,” she said.
Reaction to the new regulation was swift among Caribbean tourism officials.
The Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) said that the CDC testing requirement “presents a challenge for most of the small countries in the Caribbean due to the lack of availability and access to testing equipment and lab facilities to conduct massive amounts of PCR tests within a short turnaround time.
“Most of the region needs additional time to rapidly build up additional capacity beyond the short time window provided,” said Vanessa Ledesma, the CHTA’s acting CEO and director general.
Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett named a special task force to ramp up testing capacity in light of the growing demand. The U.S. is the country’s largest tourism source market.
He said the task force would work with the Ministry of Health and Wellness and tourism stakeholders in both the public and private spheres “to boost Jamaica’s capacity to facilitate wide scale Covid-19 testing for visitors,” he said.
On-site testing at select resorts in Ocho Rios, Montego Bay and Negril is in the works, according to the Jamaica Tourist Board.
The Bahamas is well positioned to adhere to the new order, according to Dionisio D’Aguilar, its minister of tourism and aviation. Currently, visitors to the Bahamas who stay longer than five days are required to take a rapid antigen test regardless, at a number of testing sites approved to administer the tests, found at bahamas.com/travelupdates.
Baha Mar, for example, is providing on-site Covid-19 testing upon arrival and departure, with both PCR and rapid antigen tests available at the Nassau resort complex.
“Our journey has not been without bumps in the road, but we have made great strides in combatting this virus as evidenced by the low number we have achieved,” D’Aguilar said.
Eusi Skeete, U.S. director, Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc., said that the country was in the process of formulating a solution dedicated to travelers departing for the U.S. that will not put a strain on its current health system.
One bright light for U.S. travelers returning from the U.S. Virgin Islands is that the testing requirement does not apply to them. It does, however, apply to passengers arriving in the USVI from a foreign country.
While the CDC requirements will “stretch the resources for all countries,” particularly with regards to the 72-hour window, Antigua and Barbuda “has risen to the challenge,” said Colin James, CEO of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority.
Health authorities have more than doubled the laboratory testing resources to take care of the expected surge in demand for testing, according to James. Additional swabs and test kits were ordered in anticipation of this development, he said.
Glenn Jones, interim CEO of the Bermuda Tourism Authority, said, “We fully expect the government here to quickly adapt to the new pre-arrival testing protocols many countries have put in place. Even before that solution is finalized, travelers can book a private test with an approved medical practitioner to receive their negative Covid-19 test result within the required 72 hours turnaround time.” Bermuda’s on-island testing resources are listed at gotobermuda.com.
Numerous comments from advisors on the Facebook page of Travel Advisors Selling The Caribbean reflected frustration regarding the regulation, with one agent posting “let the cancellations roll in…I can’t do this again.” Another said that “guests are not going to want to stop their vacation to take a test, and the CDC hasn’t taken into account the islands’ availability to administer Covid tests.”
Another agent tried to reassure her colleagues with the post: “By the end of the day the resorts are not going to want to lose business, so they will find a way to get their guests tested.”