Many of the Caribbean's 33 tourism-reliant nations remain closed to international travelers. However, several destinations across the region are now accepting visitors as they attempt to rebuild tourism activity during the critical fall period.
Yet to resume some semblance of the millions of visitors the region previously attracted annually prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, destinations need not only to reopen, but travelers must also feel comfortable returning to the region.
To do that, vacationers must access, understand and prepare for required COVID-19 protocols in the Caribbean country they intend to visit. "We forewarn our clients that protocols and guidelines can change on a dime, so they need to be aware that they might need to suddenly follow a new policy, which can be stressful," said Jennifer Doncsecz, owner of VIP Vacations.
Her agency has served "many travelers and even large wedding groups" traveling to Antigua, St. Lucia, Aruba, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic following these countries' border reopenings. Another top travel seller, Tom Varghese, also identified the "romance market" as ready to travel to Caribbean destinations this fall, including "clients that are celebrating a delayed honeymoon, anniversary or milestone birthday."
Here are essential aspects that travelers heading to Caribbean destinations this fall should consider before departing:
— GET TESTED
Most Caribbean nations accepting travelers from the U.S. have designated America as a "high risk" COVID-19 country and thus require travelers from the country to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test within as few as three to five days of arrival.
But standards can vary across the region. Some Caribbean countries, including Aruba, only "encourage" travelers to obtain proof of a negative test prior to arrival. The Dominican Republic recently implemented a Responsible Tourism Recovery Plan under which travelers are no longer required to present a negative COVID-19 test at Dominican airports to enter the country.
Regardless of regulations in the country to which your clients plan to travel, it is undeniably prudent for travelers to get tested before departing, if only to confirm their personal health status relative to COVID-19 prior to traveling. But checking the specific requirements in the country you are visiting will prevent further problems upon arrival.
— CONTACT THE AUTHORITIES
Caribbean government and tourism websites offer the most updated information regarding current protocols for regional countries, which can vary significantly. Some Caribbean governments have changed protocols and requirements several times as more is learned about the illness.
Entry requirements also vary within the region. For example, high-risk visitors to the Bahamas and Barbados are required to quarantine for up to 14 days upon arrival. Anguilla requires potential visitors to pre-register online at the Anguilla Tourist Board's website and provide information including proposed travel dates. The Bahamas and U.S. Virgin Islands both changed protocols earlier this summer due to local COVID-19 spikes.
That's why it's crucial that travelers access data from official tourism authorities in the Caribbean destination they plan to visit this fall. "The most important things to know about traveling right now is to understand all the protocols that are in place in both the destination and resort you are visiting," said Varghese, owner of the Travel Tom agency.
Not surprisingly, Caribbean countries that "have shown that they have great measures in place to protect our clients as well as provide a relatively hassle-free means of entry" have been most popular with his clients, Varghese said. He cited Antigua and St. Lucia as destinations where "both the countries and resorts are taking great measures to keep our clients safe while providing a great travel experience."
Doncsecz meanwhile advises consumers to select their Caribbean vacation targets carefully. "When we have last-minute travelers, we tend to stay away from suggesting destinations that 'intend' on reopening by a certain date," said Doncsecz, "and suggest destinations that are already reopened."
She noted "Barbados, Turks & Caicos, and The Bahamas have flip-flopped on their entry requirements and reopening dates," making it imperative travelers access the latest information.
Travelers can find government ministry and tourism agency links for 24 Caribbean destinations on the Caribbean Tourism Organization's website. The Centers for Disease Control recommends Caribbean-bound travelers consult the destination's Ministry of Health or the U.S. Department of State's Country Information page. In addition, the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association maintains a Resource Center that provides regional alerts, travel advisories and airline and accommodation policies and guidelines.
— BUY TRAVEL INSURANCE
Travel insurance coverage tied specifically to COVID-19 is limited according to travel insurance consolidation firm Squaremouth. Benefits may be available depending on the situation, including coverage for COVID-19-related cancellations or medical emergencies. However, travelers can also protect themselves in case an unforeseen COVID-19 scenario impacts their plans with a "cancel for any reason" policy from a leading provider.
— CONSULT A TRAVEL ADVISER
The atmosphere of caution and uncertainty attached to the re-launch of Caribbean travel makes it crucial to re-confirm every aspect of their journey before departing, from airport and flight requirements to hotel bookings and transportation arrangements. Travelers risk missing key details, not to mention increasing their own stress levels to ensure they have all bases covered.
"(Travel advisers') jobs are to stay on top of all the currently available information and to educate our clients so that they are not only fully aware of what to expect," said Varghese, "but also to set their expectations as to what 'travel experience' they can expect while on vacation (including) masks may need to be worn in public places (or) not all facilities may be open and available."
(TravelPulse is a leading travel authority on the Web, providing consumer travel news and insider tips and advice for an ever-changing travel world. Read more stories at travelpulse.com )
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PHOTO (for help with images, contact 312-222-4194): WLT-CARIBBEAN-REOPENING