As of Nov. 1, eight countries off North America’s eastern seaboard, including Bermuda, qualified as CDC “Level One-Low Risk” or requiring “No Travel Health Notice” status.
As professionals teed off at Port Royal Golf Club, the air rippled with a strange sound not heard at such events since the spring—a polite golf clap from a smattering of fans. The 2020 Bermuda Classic, which concluded last week, was the first PGA event since the onset of Covid-19 to allow a gallery because the virus is almost entirely contained amid the country’s 65,000 people.
Island escapes once hit hard by a global tourism industry crippled by the coronavirus are now among the fastest to recover as destinations from the Caribbean north to Bermuda earn the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) highest virus safety ratings.
As of Nov. 1, eight countries off North America’s eastern seaboard qualified as CDC “Level One–Low Risk” or requiring “No Travel Health Notice” status. They include St. Lucia, the Cayman Islands, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, and Bermuda. Tourists from within the U.S. don’t have to quarantine for any period upon returning from such countries.
According to Glenn Jones, interim CEO for the Bermuda Tourism Authority, the nation braced itself for difficult times when it closed in March—while realizing its island isolation would play a role in its survival and recovery.
“This year did significant damage to the tourism industry, but fortunately Bermuda’s economy is diversified,” Jones says. “Tourism is not our main GNP contributor. It’s international business and finance. That work was able to go on and allowed a significant portion of our economy to continue even while tourism suffered.”
Jones explains that the international business community served as Bermuda’s first trickle of returning pleasure travelers as business trips became staycations and family outings.
“We have to give credit to our government leadership in keeping Covid-19 under control,” he adds. “They were very strong and decisive early in the pandemic to lock down the community and stomp out the virus. They also struck a balance and looked for the best opportunity to reopen the economy to visitors because a lot of jobs here are tied to tourism. Those people can go back to work now.”
Upon arrival at Bermuda’s airport near the capital city of Hamilton, staff first checks every passenger’s temperature. When visitors pass that test, they receive a Covid check in the airport. Following the nasal swab, the travelers claim their luggage—free to depart for their hotel or other lodgings. There they must stay until they receive a government email informing them of a negative test and allowing them to enjoy their masked vacation. Those results usually arrive in less than 24 hours.
“We restarted flights into Bermuda on July 1,” Jones reports. “Since July, we allowed a gradual increase in flights and visitors. That Covid test regimen every tourist experiences really stood up and helped us to continue the increases. Even with a positive case, there’s a strong plan in place for contact tracing and isolation to make sure that one case doesn’t become five.”
Some 1,200 miles south of Bermuda, in the lower reaches of the Caribbean, St. Lucia shut its borders on March 23 before resuming international flights on July 9. The island of 183,000 owes 65% of its GDP to tourism, so officials reopened its resorts in August with precautions in place.
As of Nov. 1, the country reported 84 cases of Covid-19 and zero deaths. While international tourist visits to St. Lucia declined 57.3% during the first six months of 2020, the destination took in 16,200 visitors from July 9 through Oct. 19.
“This year did significant damage to the tourism industry, but fortunately Bermuda’s economy is diversified,” says Glenn Jones, interim CEO for the Bermuda Tourism Authority.
St. Lucia Prime Minister Allen Chastanet insists his country’s initial strategy to combat the virus was simple: Coexist with the virus.
“If we did not develop strong protocols and learn to co-exist with Covid, we simply would not recover,” Chastanet says. “Covid created two distinct crises—one health-related and one economic.”
Chastanet, the former Minister of Tourism for St. Lucia, describes the island’s Covid solutions as “a responsible phased reopening” with strong protocols developed by a Covid Task Force. The plan developed a Covid-Certified hotel program and mandated traveler pre-testing. International visitors must submit a travel registration form online and take a Covid-19 PCR test within seven days before their flights.
“Adherence to these guidelines has helped us to reignite the tourism industry responsibly,” Chastanet adds. “Additional certified hotels will be opening in November, with new activities certified and restaurants reopening to visitors.”
The Serenity at Coconut Bay resort is a participant in the St. Lucia procedures. CEO Mark Adams makes it clear that the luxury venue began sanitizing heavily even before the island closed in March. Then, the property installed its Paradise Protection Protocols to address the health and safety issues presented by Covid-19.
“Thorough sanitization procedures are maintained with high-traffic and high-touch areas continually disinfected,” Adams explains. “Our staff have regular health screenings, undergo temperature checks, wear personal protective equipment and follow strict health and safety guidelines at all times.”
Serenity guests also have their temperature checked on arrival and each subsequent day until departure. They are required to wear a mask in public areas and when social distancing isn’t possible in compliance with government health and safety requirements. Guests have a choice of in-suite dining with 24-hour room service served by butler or via contactless delivery.
“We’re finding people are starting to show interest in traveling to the Caribbean,” says Veronica Kastukevich, a custom travel advisor and tour operator based in Connecticut. “However, many of these travelers were changes from the early Covid months of March to June. ”
Kastukevich suggests the biggest travel obstacle was the individual states’ rules on quarantine. The CDC’s green light on some Caribbean spots should ease that problem. Still, she doesn’t see much travel activity until March 2021.
“The issue is that consumer confidence is not there,” Kastukevich says.“We share the emails and reviews of the people to show how we traveled during Covid to tell them how safe, enjoyable and well needed their vacations are.”