Arrival COVID test would have 'cost us competitive advantage'

* Family Island resorts feared direct airlift loss

* Many islands excluded as antigen test sites

* Hotels urged not to do 5-day test themselves


Tribune Business Editor


Resorts on some Family Islands had feared "losing a competitive advantage" had the COVID-19 'upon arrival' test remained in place, a senior Ministry of Tourism official revealed yesterday.

Kerry Fountain, the Bahamas Out Island Promotion Board’s (BOIPB) executive director, told Tribune Business that hotel properties on islands such as Andros, Cat Island and Long Island feared they would lose direct airlift as they had no ports of entry designated as locations for this testing.

As a result, these resorts and associated business were "not dissatisfied" when Dionisio D'Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation, unveiled the last-minute change in government policy that abandoned the COVID-19 testing upon arrival for all tourists.

Mr Fountain said the concerns related to implementation, and the exclusion of their islands as ports of entry, rather than opposition to the principle of rapid antigen testing at the border. He added, though, that his members still have "small, niggling, mosquito-type questions" over where the five-day tests will be administered to their guests and who will administer them.

"A lot of the hotels were reporting, not that they disagreed with testing on arrival, but that the initial plans called for certain islands and locations to be designated as COVID-19 ports of entry," Mr Fountain told this newspaper.

"It excluded airports such as Congo Town, which has direct service from Florida. It excluded New Bight, which has direct service from Florida, and it excluded Long Island. It impacted not just commercial carriers flying to those airports, but charter aircraft and private planes that fly in directly from Florida to those islands.

"In this day and age, charters and private pilots having access to fly into The Bahamas and any island is a competitive advantage. When you eliminate a number of ports of entry [from the testing], there went your competitive advantage," he continued.

"When we announced we were doing away with the rapid antigen testing upon arrival, a lot of hotels on the Family Islands were not dissatisfied with that decision." Had the border COVID-19 testing remained in place, using a limited number of airports, marinas and sea ports, the aviation industry would have been forced to divert to these locations and away from some Family Islands.

With the entire resort industry industry agreeing the previous 14-day mandatory quarantine was a "non-starter" when it came to reviving The Bahamas' tourism industry, Mr Fountain said sector questions still remain over the COVID-19 health and safety protocols - especially as it relates to the testing system.

"The rapid antigen test remains in place for visitors staying for more than five days," he added. "I think the hotels can all live with that, but what is uncertain right now is where they go to get a five-day test and who will administer that five-day test.

"Once we sort that out we will be OK. These are some small, niggling, mosquito-type questions. The two major questions from Family Island hotels in terms of frequency are where do you go for the five-day test and who administers it?"

Mr D'Aguilar said the Government was trying to arrange that testing, and related administration, be carried out by licensed medical practitioners on the Family Islands. Mr Fountain, meanwhile, said he was attempting to dissuade Promotion Board members from carrying out the five-day COVID tests themselves for fear this would expose them to potential legal risks.

"Some hotels, to my surprise, are willing to administer the tests on property and have someone trained to do it," he revealed to this newspaper. "We get 82-85 percent of our visitors from the US, which is sort of a litigious country, so we have to be very careful about hotel staff administering the test when I feel, quite frankly, it should be done by someone properly trained."

Mr Fountain said the COVID-19 testing and risk mitigation system unveiled by the Government at the weekend was something the hotel and tourism industry "can live with", as he voiced optimism that the "trickle" of visitors will start to pick up following yesterday's US presidential election.

"I know they're getting a trickle of business as of November 1," he added of the Promotion Board's member hotels. "It's a drip drip. I think as we communicate with the travelling public out there that we are open for business, and dot the 'i's' and cross the 't's' for our travel plans and protocols, I think you're going to see a strong increase and build-up in reservations.

"Then you have to factor in what is going on here with the US presidential election. I think there's a demand. We need to get past today [yesterday], and it's been such a build up with COVID-19; it's prevalent on the news, is such an election topic, and once people get past all the noise of the election on TV they will settle down and say: 'You know what? I need a break'."

The Bahamas is also eliminating the mandatory 14-day quarantine for persons travelling inter-island (domestically) as of November 8, and Mr Fountain said it was vital that this nation be "consistent" with its COVID-19 health and safety protocols and not discriminate between tourists and citizens/residents.

"They say what is good for the goose is good for the gander. What is good for visitors should also be good for citizens and residents. The travel protocols in place for our visitors should be the travel protocols in place for citizens and residents," he added.

"What got us in trouble, and it's not there to throw blame, but we learned on July 1 when we allowed Bahamians to travel to Florida and, if they returned within 72 hours, they did not need to have a test before they returned home and could self-quarantine. We saw how crazy that was."

Mr Fountain backed retaining the COVID-19 PCR test within five days of travel, and a rapid antigen test five days after arrival, for all domestic inter-island travel originating from New Providence.

He also revealed that he is urging Bahamian aviation operators to adjust their Family Island schedules such that they time their departures to occur after the arrival of international flights into New Providence, thus improving connectivity and boosting load factors on their routes.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment