Sat | Jan 16, 2021

Tourism stakeholders want ‘One Caribbean COVID Protocol’, medical wallet

Published:Friday | November 13, 2020 | 12:20 AMJanet Silvera/Senior Gleaner Writer

WESTERN BUREAU:

THE CARIBBEAN may not have succeeded with a ‘One Caribbean’ marketing initiative, but stakeholders in the industry want a ‘One Caribbean COVID Protocol’ and a medical wallet that fits the region.

American Airlines vice-president, Latin America, Caribbean, and Florida states, Christine Valls, says unencumbered and swift travel to the region has been stymied as travel and booking agents have to be preoccupying themselves with deciphering and validating COVID-travel requirements for the various countries in the region, owing to the fact they all differ.

Compounding the situation is that travellers are themselves also coming from a diverse group of destinations. Consequently, she said, by standardising travel requirements for all Caribbean countries, clients would be more inclined to make the region their first choice.

“I think for us, looking at it from an airline lens, the challenge that we’ve had is that we fly to different countries, and every country has a different requirement, and it has been very difficult for customers to navigate through exactly what is it they need and within what time period,” she said.

STANDARD TESTING

For the airline, Jamaica is one of its most important destinations, and one of its largest in the region, and come December, when some 15 flights per day will be operated into the island, the need for some type of standardisation, in relation to testing protocols, would be of great benefit to the carrier.

“Our ticketing agents have become experts in lab results. It’s just not something that is sustainable, particularly for the airlines where our systems are set up with spokes and hubs … ,” she told delegates in attendance at the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica online Economic Series tagged ‘Road Map to Jamaica 2.0: Tourism Recovery’.

One of the solutions proposed is the use of a digital medical wallet, which should allow the smooth flow of passengers, preventing them from missing flights, while trying to decipher requirements. At present, she noted, discussions in this regard were ongoing with Jamaica’s tourism and health ministers, as well as the island’s Ambassador to the United States, Audrey Marks.

Valls is of the opinion that it will reduce the bottleneck now being experienced by passengers who land at the Sangster International Airport, where Ministry of Health and Wellness staff and the army have taken up residence.

SEAMLESS ENTRY

In the meantime, MBJ Airports Limited’s Chief Executive Officer Shane Munroe, agrees that Jamaica must be prepared to engage in bi-lateral arrangements with its largest markets, the US, the UK, and Canada regarding meeting each other’s health requirements to create a safe, seamless, and barrier-free way for passengers to travel back and forth.

“I am not suggesting what is done in Mexico, where they don’t have quarantine or testing requirements. But what we see here is where the barriers are removed in Cancun, they are having 400,000 international passengers in October. We are at 70,000 passengers, and what we see is not that there isn’t the demand, but if we do not make the entry requirements as seamless as possible, try to move as many people as we can, then we are going to restrict the growth in travel,” he admitted.

Citing the fact that there is a latent demand for travel, Munroe said that while the introduction of Rapid COVID tests is a good measure to overcome demand-impacting quarantine requirements in lieu of a vaccine, it is the setting of global standards for travel that would remedy the situation.

“Aviation works based on global standards. For some reason it is absent in this crisis right now, but even after 9-11, what brought back travel was global standards that worked regardless of the state, regardless of the country. And so, those consistent measures restored confidence because of where they travelled know that they expect a certain level of safety. And that’s what’s needed now,” he argued.

janet.silvera@gleanerjm.com