The Bahamas will have a phased reopening of its tourism industry starting June 15, with July 1 remaining as the target date for a full opening, Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar announced yesterday at a press conference during which the Bahamas Tourism Readiness and Recovery Plan was made public.
The plan outlines protocols for receiving tourists at ports of entry, sets guidelines for the sanitization of airports and seaports, and outlines requirements tourism industry frontline workers must meet in an effort to reduce the risk of COVID-19.
The country’s borders have been closed to international travel since late March.
“Before the proposed general opening of our borders on the first of July, it is intended that there be a phased opening of the tourism sector prior to this date,” D’Aguilar said.
“This phased approach will begin on June 15 when boaters, yachters and private aviation will once again be invited to experience our destination. We will begin with these smaller special interest groups as they provide a more controlled segment to test our measure. They all will pre-register electronically, allowing health officials to determine their risk level.
“Also, during this phase, commercial airlines will be allowed to bring in Bahamian citizens, legal residents, homeowners or the immediate family members.
“All returning persons will be required to obtain a molecular swab PCR COVID-19 test with a negative result.”
Hotels will be permitted to reopen “to enable staff to put in place all the measures required to ensure that hotels are ready for the full opening”.
In producing the 111-page plan, the Tourism Readiness and Recovery Committee, headed by the Bahamas Hotel Tourism Association and the Ministry of Tourism, worked with public and private partners.
The plan requires airports on New Providence, Grand Bahama and other islands to enhance cleaning efforts in all terminals with an increased focus on frequently touched areas inclusive of handrails, counters, restrooms and others; install hand sanitizer stations strategically throughout the terminals; implement temperature screening equipment to assist with measuring the temperature of all incoming passengers; place sanitizing mats at the entrance to all terminals; and limit the terminal facilities to passengers and essential airport workers only.
Nassau Airport Development Company (NAD) and other airport operators will provide pre-arrival information on NAD’s website and social media posts. This information will include requiring passengers to wear masks when transiting terminals, traveling with medical certificates indicating good health, information on enhanced screening methods and other prescreening measures.
Once The Bahamas reopens, the immigration section at Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) will require the placement of markers on the terminal floor to indicate where passengers should stand in accordance with physical distancing measures, and installation of plexiglass partitions to act as barriers between immigration officers and passengers.
Immigration officers will be required to wear masks and gloves, and will be responsible for implementing enhanced screening methods.
Those methods include reviewing visitors’ travel histories, validating health certificates, maintaining a database of traveler contact information and managing passengers’ plans for self-isolation for a period of 14 days.
Department of Public Health officials or other officials designated to serve in such capacity will conduct advanced screening of passengers, including temperature screening.
They will transfer passengers who show symptoms of COVID-19 to the on-site quarantine area away from other passengers for further testing and evaluation.
Physical distancing markers will be placed around baggage claim devices to ensure proper separation between passengers.
Passengers will be required to use the two most distant baggage carousels.
The plan outlines similar measures for Grand Bahama International Airport and requires “mandatory use of masks by all passengers and airport workers” at Family Island airports.
To help reduce potential risk of infection posed by passengers, crew, workers, contractors and visitors to seaports, proactive screening protocols will be in use, the plan states.
Physical distancing rules will be in place and will apply for passengers, crew and workers.
Visitors to ports or terminals will be restricted to specific areas, in part to limit the possible interface between the public and port and terminal employees and tenants.
It is anticipated that thermal temperature scanners will be utilized within passenger terminals and areas of high pedestrian traffic, the document notes.
Disinfectant booths may be located at the entrance of each terminal with automated mist spray of disinfectant whilst people walk through. The luggage may also be disinfected prior to terminal entry.
The plan calls for entry points to ports to be limited to help ensure only screened and authorized personnel, passengers and crew enter the terminal or the workplace.
The plan also calls for workers to wear personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves, hard hats and steel-toed boots in designated areas.
In addition, it outlines procedures for marinas. Boaters will be required to complete the Maritime Declaration of Health Form and marinas must be informed at least 48 hours prior to a vessel’s arrival.
While in port, crew and passengers are required to wear masks.
Non-essential individuals should be limited or prohibited from visiting seaports.
Hotels are also asked to consider additional health and safety protocols to mitigate risks and ensure the safety of guests and employees.
Staff will have to undergo temperature checks, and hotels are required to ensure they have personal protective equipment.
Masks must be worn at all times by all staff, however, gloves will be required for designated personnel, i.e. housekeeping, public area attendants, security officers.
The plan advises that staff “avoid welcome, farewell hugs and handshaking with guests”.
Guests must maintain a physical distance of six feet or more from people not traveling with them on the front door.
“If the suspension of valet services is not possible, proper guidelines should be outlined, i.e. sanitize vehicle door handles with disinfectant wipes before opening all vehicles, wear gloves while opening all vehicle doors and dispose of gloves after each use,” the plan stats.
No more than four guests will be allowed in an elevator at any given time. Visible floor markers are required to indicate six feet of physical distancing.
All massage therapists will be required to obtain a new health certificate.
At the press conference yesterday, the tourism minister noted that two out of every three jobs in The Bahamas are from tourism.
“We cannot sustain the current modus operandi that much longer,” D’Aguilar said.
“That’s why we’re beginning the formative steps of reopening and giving lots of thought as to how to do that as safely as possible.”
The United States is The Bahamas’ primary tourism market with 1.45 million American stopover visitors last year.
In recent weeks, the United States has also led global charts with the highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths.
There have been 21,000 new cases of the virus since the start of mass protests across the U.S. last week.
Asked whether this was a concern as The Bahamas prepares to reopen, D’Aguilar replied, “Obviously, the unrest in the United States is most disconcerting but, unfortunately, our number one market is the United States. Eighty-two percent of our foreign visitors come from the United States and seven percent of them come from Canada.
“So, between those two countries, North America represents almost 90 percent of our foreign visitors. So, we can’t ignore the fact that if we’re going to restart the tourism industry, that is going to be the origination of most of our foreign visitors.
“…Yes, we’re watching the television. And yes, we’re seeing what is happening. There is cause for concern.
“But we feel that our screening process, we feeling that our social distancing, we feel that all of the sanitization methods that we are putting in place will help to mitigate the risk. It won’t eliminate it.”