By Makeida Antonio
New travel protocols and other local tourism industry information were discussed and shared during a virtual meeting held yesterday morning.
The Destination Antigua and Barbuda webinar on Zoom was attended by the government of Antigua and Barbuda, the Antigua and Barbuda Hotels and Tourism Association, and other key stakeholders in the industry. The introduction of new policies regarding vaccination of visitors, certified accommodations and the tourism tax levy were items listed on the meeting’s agenda.
Minister of Tourism, Charles ‘Max’ Fernandez, told participants that a number of factors must be taken into consideration before the government requires all visitors to be fully vaccinated.
“The concern that we have is that a number of countries would be using the AstraZeneca vaccine. As a result, persons under 18 are not able to avail themselves of that vaccine. So, if you’re going to say that you’re going to allow fully vaccinated persons only, one – do you also say that you’re only going to allow vaccines approved by the FDA? The World Health Organisation? The CDC? CARPHA? PAHO?” Minister Fernandez asked.
The tourism boss expressed the importance of the government having more dialogue with stakeholders before coming to a final decision on the matter. He reiterated that these important conversations in the industry are to protect not only tourists, but the local population as well.
“The government will need to have full clarity so that when we make a decision we don’t run back every other two days to try to amend a change. There’s still much dialogue to be had between ourselves and our stakeholder partners. In the meantime, we have not taken that decision to say that persons arriving in Antigua need to be fully vaccinated,” he said.
During the session, Minister Fernandez thanked the Tourism Authority for outstanding work during a time where the country has felt the impact of less-than-optimal arrivals due to the Covid-19 pandemic affecting tourism-dependent nations, especially in the Caribbean.
“Whereas others see tourism as their livelihood, Antigua sees tourism as its life. When they are pushing for their livelihoods, we are fighting virtually for our existence. Tourism accounts for between 65 to 70 percent of our GDP.
“We’ve taken some blows like just about every other country in terms of tourism arrivals and the fallout from the pandemic, but I think we’ve done a pretty good job between the government through the Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Health and definitely the Tourism Authority,” said Minister Fernandez.
Yesterday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a document outlining an updated Travel Advisory where residents are encouraged to avoid non-essential travel, and other protocols concerning vaccinations and returning nationals and visitors to Antigua and Barbuda.