Changes in COVID Protocols Affecting Travel

Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association president Robert Sands said the “bigger issue” for the country is changes in entry protocols as opposed to health travel warnings from the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Earlier this month, the government suspended the mandatory RT-PCR test requirement for vaccinated people entering the country. The BHTA president said the hotel sector was grateful for the move.

“We need to get to a position whereby we are on a projection that we’re sort of constant rather than changing because it has an impact in the source markets, airlines and different persons become confused as to what are the current arrangements to enter a country and also some of the requirements can become onerous on the travelling public,” Mr Sands said.

“We are grateful that the government delayed their approach to going to a PCR test and stayed to an antigen, and I think the government is currently reviewing the permanency of the antigen test which I think will be a very good thing.

“We’re hopeful that they can continue to review the protocols for entry into The Bahamas that have minimal impact on the travelling consumer both in terms of cost, both in terms of the frequency of tests that they have to do and also terms of taking into consideration the overall improvement of the COVID levels within our destination.”

Earlier this month. Health Minister Dr Michael Darville said while the RT-PCR requirement remains in place for people who are not fully vaccinated, it was the intention of the government to reinstate the PCR test requirement across the board by the end of January when the spike in cases is expected to calm.

Recently, the CDC upgraded this country’s travel warning from level three to level four, advising people to avoid travel to The Bahamas due to the high level of COVID-19 cases. Asked if the advisory has had some impact on the industry, Mr Sands said “it has and isn’t”.

“Certainly the movement and the changes in the market place certainly has an impact on persons’ perception and willingness to travel, but we are now satisfied that there’s significant pent-up demand that the discerning traveller is beginning to cope with these different categories,” said Mr Sands, a senior executive at Baha Mar.

“It does, however, create opportunities for persons who may want to opt out of confirmations, gives them an easier way out in terms of cancellations, etc, and it does to some degree have a negative impact on group bookings going forward and a lesser degree on leisure bookings at this point in time.”

He added: “We have to appreciate that the CDC standard is based on numbers of COVID positive, COVID tested at any one time. Once you’re at a particular level then they move you to a particular category as you begin to improve they reduce you to a particular category. So, the minister alluded to the issue about our numbers getting better and if those numbers continue to get better and they hold at a particular level for at least 14 days, then I think we can then see the CDC upgrading The Bahamas from a four to a three then possibly getting back to a level two.”

The government recently launched its free COVID-19 testing pilot programme on some islands. Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union President Darrin Woods had said earlier that hotel workers have been helped tremendously by this move.

Some hotel properties mandate that unvaccinated hotel workers pay for their own weekly antigen tests.

Asked if the hotel industry has saved money with the government providing antigen tests, Mr Sands replied: “The hotel doesn’t save anything simply because we want to create a safe environment and those costs have been extremely high for us over the last two years, certainly since the advent of COVID where we’ve taken the role that we want to create a safe environment not only for our guests but also want to create an environment for our associates and even today where over 70 percent of our associates at Baha Mar in particular are vaccinated they are still mandated to test on a weekly basis of which the company absorbs.

“If they have to provide an antigen test and the vaccinated individuals, they’re not paying for that, and we do accept the government test – free test. A site that is just behind us here (at the Melia).”

By Earyel Bowleg: Tribune Staff Reporter