by Kari Grenade, PhD Regional Economist and Macroeconomic Advisor
In Caribbean countries where there isn’t yet “community spread” as defined by public health experts, the source of the Covid-19 spread within communities is infected persons entering the country, be they nationals or tourists.
Therefore, Caribbean governments must deal frontally with the source of the spread.
In this article, my focus is on tourists, not on nationals, because governments should not deny them entry and exit. For citizens and residents entering their respective countries, they must follow all the prescribed health protocols without exception and compromise! Quarantine means just that! The term is an unambiguous one!
As it pertains to tourist arrivals, let it be clear, dealing frontally with that source of the spread of Covid-19 does not necessitate border closures. If air and sea borders are closed how would Caribbean countries get their food, medicines, clothing, vehicles, machinery, equipment and inputs for the agricultural and other sectors for example? If borders are closed, how would Caribbean countries be able to sell their products to the rest of the world to acquire the foreign currency needed to pay for imports and pay their foreign creditors? My point is, the closing of borders is simply not an option for consideration. However, imposing a temporary ban with immediate effect (for 90 days in the first instance) on the arrival of ALL tourists by both sea and air is an option; one that tourism-dependent Caribbean countries should seriously consider.
For sure, a moratorium on all tourist arrivals will have economic consequences for obvious reasons, but it will not bankrupt any Caribbean country and I suspect that it would not bankrupt any hotels either. What about workers in the tourism sector you may ask? Yes, they would be the ones undoubtedly most affected. In this regard, I offer some suggested actions that can be taken to help cushion the impact for affected workers and stakeholders in the tourism sector:
Caribbean governments should roll out a short-term tree-planting programme across their countries, contracting tourism workers to do so. Such an initiative would not only provide short-term employment for unemployed tourism workers but importantly also, it would contribute to countries’ environmental-sustainability and resilience-building efforts.
Caribbean governments can contract tour operations to use their coaster buses as “safe” school buses for the upcoming school term (in the first instance) to help minimise the risks to students from taking public transportation. Students should be allowed to pay a small fee for the service.
Unemployed tourism workers can form catering businesses that can be contracted to provide meals to both private and public sector construction sites.
Unemployed hotel chefs and cooks can organise themselves and partner with the private sector to do cooking shows on television and online; food distribution companies and supermarkets, for example, can advertise on the shows to generate revenue for the hosts.
Affected workers can start online businesses, packaging locally-produced products that tourists typically enjoy, packages can even include small quantities of bottled seawater and sand for sale in the major tourism source markets. If the tourists are not allowed to visit for a short period, at least they can still enjoy some unique aspects of their favourite destinations!
Property owners must ensure that their properties are maintained during the moratorium so that tiles don’t raise, rust stains do not form in bathrooms and toilets and grounds kept groomed for example. As such, some workers must be kept employed to maintain hotel properties. Re-training and upskilling programmes would also be important to deploy during the moratorium. Marketing agents should use the downtime to rollout new messages to tourists such as, “we love you, do not visit yet” or “dream now, but come later” or “later would be safer and greater” for example.
During the moratorium period, the health protocols for the tourism sector must of necessity be relooked, reset, and undergo serious stress tests to ensure as much as is humanly practical that loopholes are plugged and flaws corrected. Importantly also, institutional strengthening and capacity building of stakeholders and workers in the sector must be ratcheted up. Health protocols cannot automatically self-implement! As such, there must be transparent and robust mechanisms that allow “protocols that are on paper” to be “brought to life” so to speak. The protocols have to be implemented by human beings taking certain prescribed actions consistently without deviation and compromise! The moratorium on tourist arrivals should only be lifted once health authorities and all stakeholders involved are satisfied without reservations that protocols are airtight and that systematic mechanisms for monitoring and enforcement are in place.
In conclusion, I urge stakeholders in the tourism sector and stakeholders in the development process, in general, to come together in multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary teams to brainstorm and make recommendations to Caribbean governments so that they can formulate better policies to promote sustainable tourism and build resilience of the sector so that its value to Caribbean economies and societies can be better optimised.
At minimum, policies to promote sustainable tourism and enhance tourism’s resilience and its socio-economic value should include measures that inter alia:
- synchronise tourism/hotel development with environmental preservation;
- curb revenue leakage from the sector;
- address sexploitation and child labour;
- provide decent-paying and unionised jobs;
- provide pension plans for employees; and
- create opportunities to increase the wealth of ordinary workers and locals through ownership of tourism assets.
Caribbean countries have many things that tourism investors want, and so in negotiating with them, Caribbean governments should always be in a position to negotiate with confidence, fully cognizant that their dignity and that of their nationals are at stake. Ideally, regional tourism policies should be formulated in such a manner that do not encourage “beggar-thy-neighbour” policies among Caribbean destinations (policies that countries take individually to address an economic problem that worsen the economic problem for other countries in turn),
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