Tour operators must begin to put protocols in place that are in line with cruise lines’ COVID-19 mitigation strategies if they want to be recognized by cruise operators, who plan to keep their passengers within a tight bubble, Tourism Development Corporation (TDC) Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer Janet Johnson told Guardian Business yesterday, adding that they must also take advantage of upcoming training opportunities by the Ministry of Tourism and Aviation. Johnson stressed that at the moment it is not “business as usual” for the tourism sector.
Responding to cruise lines’ Healthy Sail Panel report submitted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), she said cruise lines across the world are fixated on the health of their passengers. It is incumbent upon any business that wishes to operate in that space to prepare itself with strategies that align with the cruise lines’ plans.
“It seems to me they have put in place some things that can really help to safeguard the passengers who come off and go back on the ship, sort of keeping them in what they call a bubble,” said Johnson.
“For our tour operators here in The Bahamas, I know that they are not happy, I know that they would like to get back in the swing, but it’s not business as usual.
“All the TDC can advise at this time is to get ready and to look for health and safety protocols that they can employ, that will safeguard their passengers when they begin to come back and the protocols they can observe so that everyone is safe, their staff as well as their passengers.”
The cruise lines’ Healthy Sail Panel report recommends that cruise guests should not leave the ship unless they are taking part in an excursion the cruise lines have ratified.
“During the initial return to sailing, cruise operators should only allow guests debarking from a ship at a destination port to participate in cruise line-sponsored or verified excursions, as a way of limiting potential exposures in the destinations they visit,” the report states.
“Given that cruise operators will not be able to fully control the SARS-CoV-2 mitigation efforts (e.g., sanitation, social distancing) of every venue at the destinations of interest, the panel recommends that in the startup phase, guests should only be permitted to disembark at ports if they are taking cruise line-sponsored excursions, where such efforts would be subject to vendor management considerations.”
The report further suggests that when the cruise lines do get back to business, that they do not visit populations centers like Nassau and Freeport at the outset, in order to guard against COVID-19 spread.
Johnson referenced an article that described how an MSC cruise denied its guests re-entry to its ship because they broke COVID-19 protocols, to outline how serious cruise lines are taking the health and safety of passengers and their own economic future.
“The cruise lines want to come, they want to enjoy what we have, but they don’t want their passengers to be infected through their carelessness in allowing them to come out of the bubble,” she said.
“We need to be patient. We need to appreciate what it is that they’re doing and we need to work on our end to mitigate this risk.”
The Ministry of Tourism has already trained about 15,000 people in its tourism readiness protocols and have plans to train more.
Johnson said the TDC is also working on a sustainable tourism certification program and is developing a seal of approval program with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) that would standardize best practices for tour operators and give confidence to people who book tours through those operators.
“The TDC seal of approval which is currently in development is intended to provide the necessary quality assurance for the discerning visitor to make the purchase and have an enjoyable experience. We hope to roll this out next year,” said Johnson.
“These visionary initiatives by TDC that are in the works are needed now more than ever.”