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Caribbean countries find there’s no good answer to reopening for tourism; where will Belize fall?

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Posted: Saturday, August 1, 2020. 9:08 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: CNN reports that the Hobson’s choice of keeping visitors out of picturesque Caribbean islands to protect citizens at an economic cost, or risk opening up to tourism and exposure to a pandemic that has so far overwhelmed the capabilities of far richer countries is impossible for the region.

As Belize prepares to open its international airport in less than two weeks’ time and five days after the opening of schools for a new academic year, the cases of Cuba and the Bahamas are being closely watched.

CNN reports that Cuba, the largest of the Caribbean islands and also the most insular due to the longstanding economic embargo perpetrated by the United States, shut out all commercial travel after visiting Italian tourists first brought COVID-19 to the island in late March.

Cases have been limited to just over 2,500 and 87 deaths but the struggle continues to eliminate the virus.

CNN reports that the usually bustling streets of Old Havana in the capital are deserted. One business owner said his restaurant business collapsed and things have been difficult since his re-opening.

Nelson Rodríguez Tamayo, the owner of the popular restaurant El Café, laid off several of his staff and was working on creating dishes geared more to Cubans as he waits to see how many more weeks or even months until Cuba reopens.

The Cuban government, which owns all the large hotels on the island, has seen revenue plunge and promised to make some changes to the centralized economic model to ease the pain after reopening of hotels on isolated keys failed to bring tourists.

Cuba has even had to resort to plans to open stores selling food in U.S. dollars, ironically because of increased sanctions from Donald Trump’s Washington.

Belize has a number of students in Cuba who were recently raising alarm about cuts to their subsidies as they continue studies.

Meanwhile, in The Bahamas, which reopened to tourism on July 1 after a two-month lockdown, the confidence the islands had the spread of COVID-19 under control evaporated after a spike in cases, mainly by visitors from the nearest U.S. state, Florida. That state’s figure of more than 430 thousand cases is larger than the archipelago’s entire population.

The Bahamian government of Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis first suspended commercial air travel with the United States and then ordered that all arriving visitors would need to go into quarantine at a government isolation facility for two weeks and then test negative for COVID-19.

On one island, residents with help from the government and private donations, set up a food distribution system to feed people in need, many of whom are unemployed tourism industry workers.

Regionally, Frank Comito, the CEO and Director General of Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association said in just three weeks in March, occupancy at the hotels his organization represents dropped from 76% to 10% and has yet to fully recover.

Comito told CNN, “We are seeing some indications of areas that have had less of an impact, but its way too early to really see us climbing out of this in any significant way.” Comito said his association is working with hotels to improve safety training and implement a system for reporting coronavirus cases at their properties while the Caribbean waits to see when tourism will rebound.

Belize is counting on a carefully prepared plan reiterated yesterday by a former Director of Tourism and now Minister for Trade and Investment, Tracey Taegar Panton, which will emphasize pre-testing and testing at the point of entry; shuttling tourists to their destinations along a safe corridor, and continued tracking with a new mobile application. Even so, she points out, Belize’s flow of tourists is not expected to pick up until hopefully after the start of the high season in November, and there are no plans at this time for cruise tourism, which has especially been hardest hit, to pick up.


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