Tourism and Aviation Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar.
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A Cabinet minister yesterday said the tourism industry’s “contact sport” must grapple with a “new normal” focused on health and safety in a post-COVID-19 environment.
Dionisio D’Aguilar, minister for tourism and aviation, told reporters outside the Cabinet Office: “We are now grappling with the period after lockdown and curfew. We are trying to determine how best to get tourism cranked up and moving again.
“Tourism, as you can imagine, is a contact sport and, as the COVID-19 virus has demonstrated, coming into contact with people leads to community spread. So we have to devise a product, and devise a tourism industry, that lessens the contact but allows for the experience.”
Mr D’Aguilar added: “We have to figure out how a business could operate, a hotel or restaurant, in this new norm. How do we social distance in a business that, by and large, requires a lot of human contact.
“So businesses have to think how they are going to operate because a customer is going to want to know when I come to your place, I am not going to get sick, and the person that operates the place is going to want to know that when you come, you don’t make me sick. So we have to put in place protocols to ensure that everybody can operate in a safe and healthy environment.”
“Right now, if you look to our neighbours to the north, the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, they are in the throes of COVID-19. They are in the middle of their surge. So they are not talking about tourism; in fact, nobody is talking about tourism.”
Mr D’Aguilar continued: “As we are with other light industries, we have to develop our domestic economy, and if people are afraid to travel overseas, travel in your own country. Go back and visit your family, obviously, when our surge is done with.
“So we have to be creative in getting money to circulate, and getting some sort of tourism off the ground. It is a difficult topic to discuss right now because everybody is focused elsewhere, keeping safe and healthy. But nonetheless we have to start to think about what’s going to happen after we finish with lockdowns and curfews. So that is where we are, and that is what we are contemplating right now.”
“No one is really focused on the domestic tourism per se, more so with the international tourism. That, of course, is the butter that butters our bread, and we obviously need to bring in foreign currency, and we obviously need to bring as many foreign visitors as we can to improve our economic situation,”he added.
“As it relates to domestic travel I am sure that numbers will be down, and market forces will determine the lowering of prices in order to allow people to travel and build up traffic.”