By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
DAYS after several major resorts announced they will not reopen on October 15, Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar yesterday admitted the news was not a complete surprise to officials as hotel operators had already indicated their intent to resume operations after the US election in November.
His comments come after a number of the country’s top resorts including Baha Mar, its Melia Nassau Beach property and Club Med in San Salvador announced they will not reopen on October 15, the date recommended by the tourism ministry for the resort industry’s return.
Some resorts have even indicated that they may not resume operations until Christmas, with one property saying it won’t reopen until late 2021.
Speaking to reporters on the issue ahead of yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, Mr D’Aguilar said while the decisions made by hotels were not entirely a shock to his ministry, officials still decided to resume with its reopening plans for hotels in a bid to jumpstart the country’s leading industry.
He said: “So, we were well aware of the position of a number of the hotels. Clearly, Baha Mar made an announcement in July that they would be opening on October the first and when I had my press conference, I said that we will be reopening on October 15.
“So obviously, we’ve been in discussions with Baha Mar and with Atlantis and we were well aware that they were not going to open, certainly not on October 1. So, we were well aware of that.
“A number of those large hotels indicated that they wanted to wait until after the American elections and possibly open just before Thanksgiving and possibly before Christmas and we said ‘okay fine, that’s fair enough’.
“But we’re going to go ahead and announce on October 15 to get the ball rolling, to get people starting to think about it. It takes a little bit of time to ramp up so we decided to go with October 15 as a day to get everybody to start thinking about it.
“Opening a large hotel is a very complex and difficult undertaking.
“It’s so many moving parts that you have to get in place and in addition to that, they have to be comfortable with the fact their core markets out of the United States - where they would be receiving most of their guests - are in a position to travel right now.”
The requirements for visitors entering the country includes having a negative RT-PCR test that is no older than five days and quarantining for 14 days upon arrival.
Acknowledging that the requirements may not be “as tourism friendly” as other destinations, Mr D’Aguilar said officials are constantly reviewing the COVID-19 travel restrictions to create a balancing act that will facilitate the rebound of the country’s tourism industry in a safe manner.
“We think that there is demand but there are certain impediments in place that make it more difficult to come to this destination,” he said. “So, for example, you have a health visa, you have to get a COVID-19 test. You have to quarantine and vacation in place for 14 days and some people see that as an impediment to travel.
“But we understand why our health professionals, our public health professionals are making those requirements. It’s not as tourism friendly as it could be but we understand why they are doing what they’re doing.”
He added: “And we’re constantly reviewing how we can keep some of those effects in place but in some instances ease them as much as possible.”
As it relates to domestic travel, Mr D’Aguilar said “for the time being”, the current restrictions must remain in place in order to avoid further community spread.
“I know it’s an impediment to tourism, domestic tourism but right now we think that that’s more important to keep those restrictions in place to stop the spread to those islands,” the Freetown MP said.
“Because obviously the health facilities on those islands are very limited in most instances. So, we are very mindful of not creating a situation that exists here in New Providence in the more remote of our family islands and so the public health officials believe that we have to for the time being keep those rather rigid restrictions in place.”
Earlier this month, Mr D’Aguilar said he hopes there can be full re-opening of the tourism sector by early November with tourism officials eying November 1 for the reopening of tourism attractions, tours and excursions.