The Pandemic and Caribbean Travel

Op/Ed by Alan Barry Ginn

2020 will live in history as the year that reality, in many ways, has confronted humanity. The COVID-19 pandemic hit like a slow-motion 9.0 seismic event and the changes in the way we do things will be equally shattering. Reality was always there — Mother Nature is still in charge.

The World was not ready for the pandemic.1 This is no surprise to anyone. So, not only do we have a health crisis but we also have a leadership crisis. This plays out through multiple means, including poor communications, poor co-ordination of protocols, lack of synchronised plans and programs - and on and on.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caught out preparedness in many ways. After the WHO declared the pandemic, it took some time before reactions from governments put in place policies intended to limit the spread and mitigate impacts. While this alone has caused untold harm, this is not the only failure.

Even though there have been pandemics in the past, the planning scenarios for a global pandemic were not acted on early enough. As an example, the Obama administration had developed a plan2 but the Trump administration ignored it.3, 4 While the mortality worldwide is much lower than in 1918 - 1920, the United States is on track to suffer more deaths than the 1918 flu, which killed around 675,000 Americans.

There is no country that can say that their government was prepared. Seemingly, many countries either doubt the science or the data and this has led to inaction, or delay. Every policy and process to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic has been an emergency reaction.

Importantly, cutbacks to healthcare, over decades, have meant that insufficient resources were available to combat the spread. This is what has lead to the almost universal shutdowns, at massive cost.

One positive aspect is that lockdowns have almost completely stopped seasonal influenza and therefore prevented many deaths.

Travel is largely the cause of the spread of COVID-19 from the get-go and even with protections in place, likely still is, at least to some extent. Because 25 - 30% of people fail to adhere to protocols makes this very difficult to determine. But as long as this is happening, protocols must remain in place. This fact alone will effectively delay any exit from the protocols. Also, a vaccine by itself is not assured to prevent spread of the disease and there are still questions about how long an immunization will be effective or whether herd immunity is actually attainable.

Now, the pressure on the healthcare system, protection for the elderly and other vulnerable groups, such as workers unable to work from home, all show a lack of advance planning. Especially hardest hit are any hospitality concern: airlines, airports and other travel service providers. The impacts are deep, reaching into all tourism businesses along with their supply chains.

People want to travel. People need to travel. Airlines, airports, tourism authorities, local business associations as well as health authorities are all scrambling to make this possible. But efforts are severly hampered because the pandemic keeps changing so the rules keep changing. The fact is: everyone is susceptible and there are no exceptions.

Where does this leave Caribbean destinations?

Most observers will know that the Caribbean region, with some exceptions, has successfully kept a lip on the spread of the coronavirus. Most countries have reported cases, and particularly deaths, well below world averages. Active case loads are quite low.

Caribbean islands are almost certainly not the cause of spread to more populous countries. Caribbean countries should be ready to accept arrivals once the risk of spread is at 'acceptable' levels but this does not account for other potential problems such as adequate food supplies and testing facilities to provide very quick results for travellers to return home.

As was announced in Loop News in August 2020, some OECS countries, along with St Maarten/St Martin, St Barths and Dutch Caribbean islands of Saba and Statia have come together to jointly market their destinations:

"A group of eight neighbouring islands have joined forces to rethink and re-imagine their tourism marketing strategy in the post-Covid era.

Nevis, St. Kitts, Saba, Statia, French Saint Martin, Dutch St. Maarten, Anguilla and St. Barths have come together to form a Caribbean Group of 8, recognising that through a joint collaboration they can amplify their presence in the marketplace and create new travel possibilities and fresh itineraries for consumers".5

This is a great initiative and more co-operative marketing needs to be undertaken. It remains to be seen how this will impact market awareness of these destinations. However, there's strength in numbers and will almost certainly deliver better bang for the marketing buck. If nothing else, it shows co-operation IS possible.

In a subsequent development, the OECS travel bubble was implemented September 18, 2020 including: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis**, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. St Kitts later withdrew, due to disagreement over minimum standards and now requirements are the same for all arrivals.

The CARICOM Travel Bubble now in effect6

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has provided parameters for a regional Travel Bubble among the OECS countries and territories of Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis**, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. [ Note: Barbados has been removed from the list. ]

This Travel Bubble is for facilitating movement of nationals, essential workers, and visitors to the area who have followed the requisite health procedures.

All travellers, whether transiting or flying direct must present upon arrival, a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR (real-time polymerase chain reaction) test performed within seven (7) days of their flight.

All incoming travellers to these countries will also be subject to a mandatory health screening upon arrival though they will not be subject to quarantine.

Passport holders of these countries can, of course, take advantage of this travel bubble for inter-CARICOM travel.7

Persons traveling to Antigua and Barbuda from countries within the established Travel Bubble must have resided there for no less than fourteen (14) consecutive days prior to travel. They are required to have a negative COVID 19 RT-PCR test result taken within seven (7) days of their flight. They will undergo mandatory health screening upon arrival but will not be subject to quarantine. All other arriving passengers are subject to quarantine as determined by the Quarantine Authority. (

Visitors who, immediately before arriving in St. Lucia, were in a Bubble Country for at least 21 days are considered Bubble Travelers and will be exempt from quarantine; however, they must have a negative result from a PCR test taken no more than 7 days before arriving in Saint Lucia, and are subject to mandatory screening on arrival.8

** St. Kitts & Nevis officially exited the CARICOM “travel bubble” and ALL visitors are now subject to the same requirements.9

Each country is responsible for making its own assessment and therefore protocols can vary.

For example , two countries, Dominica and St Lucia, have removed Barbados from participation: Dominica places Barbados into “high-risk of COVD-19” lists.10

St Lucia has decided that Barbados with its current COVID-19 situation disqualifies it from being in their new Caribbean bubble.11

As well, Dominica has reclassified St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Turks and Caicos to the HIGH-RISK classification.

Some countries do not allow locals to pick up or drop off passengers at the airport.

Are ferries safe?

No public place, including transportation, can be 100% safe. Normal precautions are still called for but fewer people and larger seating areas allow for greater safety.

Ferry safe: taking to water seen as safer than travelling by plane, train or coach: "In total, 32% said they would feel safe from Coronavirus infection travelling by ferry. That compares with 24% for planes, 30% for trains and 26% for coaches."12

What are the requirements?

Passengers arriving by sea (private yachts/Ferry Services) are subject to quarantine according to guidelines issued by Port Health except those arriving from countries within the bubble.13

Travellers, whether residents or visitors, are free to move within Caribbean travel bubble. The trick will be getting there.

There has been some criticism of whether these protocols are working, some even labelling the actions as a failure.14 This may not be justified in view of the relative success Caricom countries have had in limiting the spread.

For the most part, Caricom countries are co-ordinating protocols between themselves and this program needs to continue.15 It is not out of the question that such programs be adopted semi-permanently. Once again, co-operation has yielded some success.

While no-one will disagree about the deadly impacts of the pandemic, however, the hiatus in travel does present opportunities. Among these, pushes towards community, pro-poor and slow travel must be seriously considered. To re-iterate, the 'Caricom Travel Bubble' represents an opportunity for people to move between islands, relatively freely, once inside the perimeter. This is no small thing.

Smaller Caribbean destinations will never match the marketing potential of the more established tourism sites in the northern locations. Hence the opportunity for a co-ordinated marketing program is the only way that any hope of competing becomes a possibility.

Re-branding and re-aligning tourism assets to the new reality have suddenly become a central theme, maybe even 'the' theme for future travel.16 As these authors, Benjamin F. Timms & Dennis Conway, argue in 'Slow Tourism at the Caribbean's Geographical Margins', from 2012!:

"[I]t behoves planners and tourism promoters in the Caribbean to recognize the value and necessity of encouraging the widening of their tourism sector’s diversity to include new and appropriate tourism forms that are more sustainable economically, socially and environmentally. Here we argue that slow tourism can serve this goal in marginal locations through its philosophical basis in slow growth development."17

They go on to say that these types of tourism won't be a replacement but rather a supplement to more traditional travel choices. Nonethless the opportunity to bring heretofore marginalized groups in to the tourism universe now has real legs.

And it is obvious that other forms of travel are undergoing monumental changes, not least, cruises. Impact within the Caribbean are likely to be correspondingly monumental.

The pandemic has put a halt to cruise tourism better than any individual country might have even thought possible. Now a window is open for countries to reconsider, collectively, how to deal with the cruise lines for the future. Any new developments in promotion, policy and other customer facing strategies, on either side, will need to make substantial adjustments.

The minimum that should be undertaken is a conference to discuss the possible approaches to be adopted. Caribbean leaders must do what they can so that these 'leadership crises' might not become endemic through their own self-fullfilment.

It is also true that the marketplace is ready for change. Travellers are ready to shift away from mainstream options towards more people and environmentally friendly choices. Slow travel such as slow food tours are now becoming viable options to promote.18 The 'Community Based Tourism: Tourism Awareness Campaign' developed by the Caribbean Tourism Organization is one example. One outstanding premise in this study is: "MSMEs can develop CBT activities with attributes that generate greater willingness to pay" has been highlighted wherein local tours and food related tourism take a front seat.19

The time has never been better for 'Developing a Niche Tourism Market'. All it requires is for a re-imagining to take place. It is certain that tourism is on the threshold of massive change and there will be no going back. The old parameters of 'airplane seats', 'hotel occupancies' and 'visitor arrivals' will take a back seat to new ones like 'visitor experience', 'artisinal sales' and 'resident participation'.

It is an exciting and challenging time to be a Caribbean tourist destination. "One Sea, One Voice, One Caribbean!"


  1. TIME article from 2017:
  2. National Pandemic Strategy @
  3. See: A pandemic plan was in place. Trump abandoned it — and science — in the face of Covid-19
  4. See also: Modeling pandemic preparedness scenarios: health economic implications of enhanced pandemic vaccine supply @
  5. 8 islands join forces to woo travellers to their markets @
  6. Caricom Today @
  7. COVID-19 Travel Bubbles - Boom or Bust? @
  10. WIC News Reporter - 16 January 2021 @
  11. Loop News, 2021 Jan 12 @
  14. Need for Regional Cohesion to Combat COVID-19 @
  15. OECS member nations fail to set up travel bubble
    "Leaders of the member countries of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) have failed in their latest attempt to establish a travel bubble among the grouping. In a virtual meeting on Thursday during the 4th Special Meeting of the OECS Authority, the leaders were unable to arrive at broad consensus on the details of the travel bubble. Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne, offered to start the travel bubble with those countries that had initially agreed, with others joining later on. Unfortunately, his suggestion did not receive the support needed to move forward. Sources close to the meeting indicate that the leaders could not agree on the minimum standards that must be met to allow entry into their territories. The OECS member states have had very different experiences in their management of the COVID-19 pandemic. St. Lucia and Antigua and Barbuda have recorded over one hundred positive cases each. In stark contrast, the British Virgin Islands has recorded no cases.The meeting centered around a proposal from Ecolog to operate rapid testing in airports in OECS member states for incoming travelers and for outbound travelers in tourism source market countries. This proposal was designed to facilitate an OECS ‘travel bubble’. Dr. Sean Matthew, who had been appointed by the authority to head up OECS negotiations with Ecolog on an agreement, gave an update to the meeting. The Caribbean leaders decided, however, that further tweaks to the agreement need to be made prior to signing. The agenda for the meeting focused largely on COVID-19. It included talks on the way forward with respect to a classification, system, testing solution and the procurement of antigen tests:

    • The OECS System
    • OECS School Protocol Sequence
    As a result of the pandemic and the resulting closure of the borders of OECS countries, intra-OECS travel and trade have been severely affected due to the almost complete halt of the movement of people.
    source: Pointe Xpress (Pointe FM Radio, Point Ville Communication) @
  16. Re-Branding Alternative Tourism in the Caribbean: The Case for ‘Slow Tourism’ @
  17. Slow Tourism at the Caribbean's Geographical Margins @
  18. Slow Movement @ Wiki
  19. Consumer Research and willingness to pay for CBT Activities Final Report (MSME = Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises)


The U.S. was the world's best prepared nation to confront a pandemic. How did it spiral to 'almost inconceivable' failure? Interviews with public health experts and reviews of studies by government agencies, watchdog groups and scientists reveal a cascade of blunders.

“The United States,” he said, “is rated number one most prepared.”

The nation did indeed rank first on the Global Health Security Index. But the president never mentioned the report’s ominous central finding: “No country is fully prepared for epidemics or pandemics. Collectively, international preparedness is weak.”