During last month’s Apple Leisure Group Vacations (ALGV) press conference, the resounding message was that beaches are still the most desired destination for American travelers for their next leisure trip, with Ray Snisky, executive v.p. and chief commercial officer for ALGV, adding that the “sweet spot for that comes when people are able to take that regional flight, an hour or three hours away from their home.”
Wide, open spaces. Spots that organically are made for social distancing. Embracing nature. Fun in the sun. Short flights. The Caribbean is made for these types of getaways, and while the islands are opening up to welcome travelers, fun in the sun comes with new protocols to ensure travelers—and the community—stay safe.
Antigua & Barbuda
Welcoming back U.S. travelers in the evening of June 4, Antigua & Barbuda was the first non-U.S. destination to open in the Caribbean in the post-COVID world. American Airlines flew from Miami, and continues to do so daily, and on July 2, the first JetBlue flight from New York landed in the island-nation. “As governments begin to ease restrictions for travelers,” says Colin C. James, CEO, Antigua & Barbuda Tourism Authority, “consumers are looking forward to seeing where they can go and what they can do. Not only is there a ‘new normal’ in the way we lead our lives, but there is a ‘new normal’ in travel as well.”
“The industry must restore consumer confidence in travel, and the new measures are intended to make people feel as safe as possible and to encourage them to once again venture forth.”
— Colin C. James, CEO, Antigua & Barbuda Tourism Authority
In Antigua & Barbuda, where many of the hotels have reopened, although some will have fall opening dates, that new normal consists of various safety protocols, including wearing face masks (if your clients don’t have one, one will be provided); the completion of a health declaration by all arriving passengers; health screenings at the airport (temperature checks and nasal swabbing and testing); presence of visible handwashing and sanitization stations at ports of entry, accommodations and restaurants; strict adherence to social distancing requirements; and sanitization of luggage by taxi drivers and private transfer providers, among others. At hotels, there’ll be online check-in; screening on arrival; and face masks when in contact with guests and staff.
“We cannot predict how travel will evolve moving forward, but what appears to be certain is that the focus on procedures that protect the health of travelers, staff and the general public will remain a priority for quite some time. The industry must restore consumer confidence in travel, and the new measures are intended to make people feel as safe as possible and to encourage them to once again venture forth.”
James notes that, “people still want to travel and experience a destination, but their travel priorities have changed. Deal-driven promotions are less significant than health and safety—touch-less solutions and cleanliness are now key. Our challenge is to manage the expectations of both guests and our stakeholder partners in the industry.” He adds that Millennials and some segments of the romance market—a key demographic for the destination—are expected to be high on the list of post-COVID travelers.
Ideal for social distancing, Antigua and Barbuda offers 365 uncrowded beaches, including a 17-mile-long beach, as well as villa-type accommodations.
“Our message to visitors,” says James, “is that they can have the best of what Antigua & Barbuda has to offer: wonderful weather; beautiful beaches; outstanding service and product; inspiring cuisine—all with the safety, security and space of Antigua and Barbuda.”
Phase 2 of The Bahamas’ Tourism Readiness and Recovery Plan began on July 1, and allows for international travel and hotels to resume operations. Delta Air Lines resumed its twice daily Atlanta to Nassau flight on July 2, and United Airlines’ daily Houston to Nassau service resumed on July 6, while its Saturday-only Denver to Nassau service is set to resume July 11. American Airlines also resumed flights to Nassau and Exuma.
Upon entering The Bahamas, travelers will be asked to show that they are negative for COVID-19 (results must be no more than 10 days old); complete an electronic Health Visa; wear a face mask in any situation where social distancing is not possible; and temperature screenings will be taken at airports.
Additionally, travelers are expected to follow The Bahamas’ Healthy Traveler Campaign, which encourages social distancing, regularly washing hands or using hand sanitizers, and packing appropriate PPE such as face masks.
“The Bahamas’ top priority is the health and wellbeing of its residents and visitors. The Ministry of Tourism & Aviation believes it is an absolute baseline requirement for consumers to have a comfort level that The Bahamas is a safe and healthy destination to visit and has worked closely with the Ministry of Health and other government entities to best ensure that.” — Joy Jibrilu, Director General, The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism
“The Bahamas’ top priority is the health and wellbeing of its residents and visitors,” says Joy Jibrilu, director general, The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism. “The Ministry of Tourism & Aviation believes it is an absolute baseline requirement for consumers to have a comfort level that The Bahamas is a safe and healthy destination to visit and has worked closely with the Ministry of Health and other government entities to best ensure that.
“The Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Health and other regulatory agencies developed the Clean & Pristine certification program, which ensures all tourism entities, including hotels, excursions, tour operators and restaurants, are adhering to government mandated health and safety guidelines.”
Your clients can safely practice social distancing while exploring the destination’s myriad beaches, including the 7-mile-long Great Guana Cay Beach in The Abacos. Spread out below a tall dune with breathtaking views of the Atlantic, here visitors can go beachcombing and snorkeling. Another idyllic spot is Lighthouse Beach in Andros, Bimini’s most popular beach, located right next to Alice Town Beach.
One of the destination’s most popular resorts, Atlantis Paradise Island, has opened the doors to The Royal and Harborside Resort, and The Cove will be reopening on July 14. Most of Atlantis’ amenities are open, including the Atlantis Casino, 20 indoor and outdoor dining outlets, miles of white-sand beaches, pools, non-motorized sports, golf, tennis, fitness center, Mandara Spa, Aquaventure slides, Dolphin Cay, The Dig and other offerings.
For the resort’s health protocols, the Atlantis Clean & Safe Promise, the resort partnered with Cleveland Clinic to develop the next level of global hospitality cleanliness standards, operational norms, and behaviors. The program features several key components: guests are encouraged to complete the check-in process up to 24 hours prior to arrival via their smartphone; to wear masks in all indoor public areas throughout the resort (in certain instances, such as riding in elevators and playing at casino table games, masks will be required); and to practice social distancing. Hand washing and sanitizing stations will be available throughout the resort; there will be signage reminders to guide and remind guests and team members of the enhanced protocols; and Atlantis has increased the frequency of deep, daily cleaning and sanitization throughout the resort, with a focus on high-touch surfaces in common-areas, using electrostatic sprayers to help apply disinfectants more effectively for full-wrap around coverage to defend against the virus for up to 60 days.
U.S. Virgin Islands
“We are adjusting to the ‘new normal,’” says U.S. Virgin Islands Departmentof Tourism’s assistant commissioner Alani Henneman-Todman. “Yes, the coronavirus has definitely changed the world—COVID-19 did things that we would have not believed could’ve been done in our lifetime, but we’ve shifted gears,” and are adjusting.
USVI opened its doors to leisure travelers on June 1, with the Health and Safety Guidelines for the USVI Tourism Industry in place and most hotels open. It’s a comprehensive master document that provides specific guidance to all tourism stakeholders, including restaurants, taxis, retail, and accommodations. “In addition to that,” says Henneman-Todman, “we’ve created a comprehensive tool for the traveler. It’s a flyer that shows all of the touch-points [in their journey]. When you come in, you have a health screening, then you sanitize, and get your PPE, which will be provided upon entry. It shows that transportation will be at 50 percent less capacity, and how one has to adhere to social distancing at bars and restaurants.”
Knowing that visitors will be seeking those wide, open spaces, Henneman-Todman reminds advisors about USVI’s “national parks throughout the territory. We are poised for travelers seeking that outdoor activity. Two-thirds of St. John is part of the National Park Service; here, visitors can do Reef Bay Trail with the petroglyphs, or snorkel the underwater trail at Trunk Bay. On St Croix, your clients can snorkel on Buck Island, and do the bioluminescent kayak tour. There are also a number of activities on St Thomas, including ziplining, walking Magen’s Bay Beach Trail, or going on a kayak tour over to Hassel Island. Also, recommend a day at Water Island, discovering all the nooks and crannies that our little secret island has to offer.
“These activities all bode well for practicing social distancing, as well as safety. Hiking is usually something you do in pairs amongst people you know, giving visitors a little respite from wearing the mask.”
“[We have] national parks throughout the territory. We are poised for travelers seeking that outdoor activity.”
— Alani Henneman-Todman, Assistant Commissioner, U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism
Henneman-Todman is happy to say that she’s hearing pent-up demand for the destination. “We know demand for the destination is strong, and we have new flights coming in the fall with JetBlue from New York to St. Thomas to meet that demand.”
She adds that the destination is “happy to be open, to welcome visitors, for them to take in the sun,” but she notes that travel advisors should remind their clients that it’s important to “social distance and to stay safe while they vacation with us.”
Blue Diamond Resorts
July 15 will see the reopening of several Blue Diamond Resorts properties, including Royalton Negril Resort & Spa, Hideaway at Royalton Negril and Grand Lido Negril. Blue Diamond Resorts has implemented new Safety-Assured Vacations protocols, including physical distancing guidelines, advanced dining safety, increased staff training and the use of PPE, a 360º Clean Approach of all resort common areas and Diamond Clean Guest Rooms where every touch-point is thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.
The 360º Clean Approach means that pools, beaches, restaurants, bars, entertainment facilities, lobbies, elevators, hallways and other shared spaces around the resort will be cleaned hourly. Diamond Clean Guest Rooms, meanwhile, signifies thorough and detail-oriented housekeeping where the guestrooms are cleaned and sanitized working from the inside-out. Other aspects of the protocols that guests will notice are: restaurant capacities have been reduced and all unnecessary items on tables have been removed; child-friendly signage and social distancing measures will be introduced; furniture will be rearranged in common areas; and hand sanitizers will be available throughout the resort.
“The overall experience for an all-inclusive vacation will remain the same, with the exception of two or three things that will ensure that social distancing is properly taken. We will encourage customers to spend more time outside and we will provide resources for that to happen.”
— Delia Osegueda, Contracting Director, USA & OTAs, Blue Diamond Resorts
“Since the days we closed the hotels, we’ve been preparing to reopen,” says Delia Osegueda, contracting director, USA & OTAs for Blue Diamond Resorts. “We already had excellent standards, but we’ve teamed up with third parties to make sure that we were complying with the CDC and WHO.
“One of the things that we already had in place and we are recommending even more are our digital experiences. For instance, we use our bracelets to open our rooms; our TVs have room service menus, etc. A lot of unnecessary items in the rooms will be removed to make sure there’s less access to contamination.”
She notes that although these new protocols are in place, “the overall experience for an all-inclusive vacation will remain the same, with the exception of two or three things that will ensure that social distancing is properly taken. We will encourage customers to spend more time outdoors and we will provide resources for that to happen.”
It’s been a scaled reopening for Iberostar Group’s hotels, as they strategically monitor the more than 300 health and safety measures they’ve implemented. Designed by the group’s medical advisory board, made up of experts in public health for the tourism industry, all protocols comply with the circularity policies that the Iberostar Group has adopted to ensure a more resilient ecosystems. The hotel chain is working with SGS, the world leader in inspection, verification, analysis and certification services. The measures implemented by the Iberostar Group, under the banner How We Care, include four main pillars: safe environment, adhering to strict compliance and permanent update of recommendations from local authorities and WHO; hygiene standards, using products that minimize the environmental impact; social distancing , making the most of open and outdoor spaces; and innovative experiences, at the service of information and communication to facilitate contactless proximity.
“We partnered with a gentleman who has spent his entire career working within the tourism industry studying infectious diseases, and how it affects water purification, as well as tourist locations around the world,” says John Long, Iberostar Group’s v.p., sales & business development, USA. “He’s created a medical advisory board that’s worked closely with our operations director, as well as our chief operations officer, and chief sustainability officer, to come up with safety protocols that aren’t going to limit the vacationer’s experience and we’re going to continue to exceed what we’ve always done, which is give them something memorable, but with a different twist.
“[We’ve] come up with safety protocols that aren’t going to limit the vacationer’s experience and we’re going to continue to exceed what we’ve always done, which is give them something memorable, but with a different twist.”– John Long, Vice President, Sales & Business Development, USA, Iberostar Group
“So, people are thinking they are going to have a mask on, and run around the resort with a mask. That’s not the case at all. You’re going to be greeted at the resort by a bellman, and they’re going to check your temperature, and then after that, if you don’t have a temperature you’re on your own to enjoy the rest of the resort. The staff will be wearing masks, face shields. It’s up to the guest to how they want to interact with other people, but of course we are encouraging social distancing, that’s very important. We are going to have all sorts of dining experiences that are going to be more open-air; our shows are going to be more spread out. Our strategy is, we aren’t going above 70 percent occupancy, so guests are going to have more staff and more spacious areas, and more things for guests to do.”
In addition to more open-air experiences and topping off at 70 percent occupancy, guests will notice reduction of tables in a la carte restaurants, and increased space in buffet restaurants; the recommendation of room service to enjoy a meal in a more intimate setting; family activities in smaller groups with advance booking; digital pre-check-in and online check-out; reinforcement of the paperless philosophy; and a touch-less experience using the Iberostar App or 24 hour E-concierge, among others.
Pointing to the group’s Fit & Fun concept, which includes fitness, Long notes that “whether it’s in Jamaica or the Dominican Republic, we’re going to have a lot more things take place outdoors, and do things by appointment. Staff will be wearing masks, lots of cleaning, following all the guidelines.”
RIU Hotels & Resorts
In mid-June, RIU Hotels & Resorts reopened its RIU Ocho Rios property, one of the first properties to reopen in the Caribbean for the hotel group, with a new set of 17 protocols that will serve to guide operations throughout the hotels. These protocols have been created by RIU professionals in collaboration with Preverisk Group, an international consultancy specializing in health and safety advice, auditing and training in the tourist industry.
Armin Kaestner, v.p., sales, contracting & business development, USA, for RIU Hotels & Resorts, notes that although they are in the early stages of implementing the protocols, “Our protocols are based on the local government protocols, but are even stricter. We had consultants, we had companies specializing in safety advising us. Guests are accepting the protocols.”
Noticeable to guests will be the capping of hotel occupancy at 50 to 60 percent; checking guests’ temperature on arrival; the implementation of web check-in; the installation of safety screens at reception desks; respecting safe distances and using PPE among employees; and encouraging guests to use the hotel app. In the rooms, all non-essential items will be removed, such as coffee machines, magazines, leaflets and laundry bags. Amenities are also reduced to only the essential, and a hand sanitizer gel will be included in every room.
Although buffet restaurants will still be part of the experience—with more individual portions, more packaged products and more live cooking—safety measures will be implemented that both guests and employees must follow, including the wearing of face masks and gloves to go to the buffet.
Pools will have capacity limits, but, as Kaestner notes, the group’s famed foam parties will not be offered as “there’s no way to control social distancing. Even if we were able to control it, the experience wouldn’t be the same.
“I personally think that the overall experience is going to be different, but it’s going to be at least as good if not better than before.”— Armin Kaestner, Vice President, Sales, Contracting & Business Development, USA, RIU Hotels & Resorts
“I personally think that the overall experience is going to be different, but it’s going to be at least as good if not better than before. Why? First of all, I think that the limitation of occupancy in the hotels will increase the amount of service and pampering to each one of the clients; and secondly, I think we are sick and tired of not having what we had before. I think between those two things, it’s going to be different but it’s going to be great.”
Let clients know, too, that RIU has launched RIU Protect. It offers medical care to its guests, including any affected by possible COVID-19 infection, at no charge to everyone who makes a reservation from June 15 until the end of 2020.
Health & Safety Protocols Information
Antigua & Barbuda: visitantiguabarbuda.com/travel-advisory
Atlantis Paradise Island: atlantisbahamas.com/clean-and-safe-promise
The Bahamas: bahamas.com/tourism-reopening
Blue Diamond Resorts: bluediamondresorts.com/covid-19
RIU Hotels: riu.com/en/posts/informacion-covid19.jsp
U.S. Virgin Islands: visitusvi.com