By Orville Williams
The government is planning to start providing cruise operators with specific Covid-19 safety assurances, in addressing the issue where cruise visitors are not coming onshore in large numbers to patronise local product and service providers.
Information Minister Melford Nicholas disclosed that new move on Thursday, amid rising concerns about what vendors on the ground are experiencing, versus the expectations and promise that the return of cruise tourism brought.
According to Nicholas, it was recently confirmed that the issue is originating from the cruise operators rather than any local directive, but discussions between the major players should result in some changes in the near future.
“I raised this matter with the Minister of Tourism on Wednesday…he did indicate that the hesitancy is from the cruise ships themselves, because they are mostly concerned with one of their passengers becoming ill from an onshore excursion.
“However, he has also indicated that the engagement that is taking place with the port operator – Global Ports – the Ministry of Tourism and the cruise lines, is of such that we are expected to see an increased number of port calls and that hesitancy will go by the wayside.”
There could also be a more permanent solution to the challenge soon, Nicholas said, in the form of detailed safety assurances which are expected to give the cruise operators the necessary confidence to send their passengers onshore.
“When we looked at some of the statistical information that we have to present to the trade, one of the issues that we discussed [on Wednesday] was to present them with a safety dashboard.
[This], from the standpoint of indicating that wherever their passengers are likely to appear – whether it be through a taxi operator, tour operator or restaurant – we want to be able to give them that assurance that it is safe to do business on island.
“So, we are likely to present them with some safety indicators to say that 95 percent of the taxi operators on island are vaccinated and all of them that are operating at the ports of call are vaccinated, the vendors [and] store owners are vaccinated, to give them that positive assurance to stimulate them to come onshore and to do business as well,” the Minister explained.
Despite the low level of business being done with small to medium-sized businesses like shops and restaurants during this period of apprehension, Nicholas pointed to the fact that there are some businesses that have continued to benefit from the vessels’ visits.
He acknowledged though, that it was simply not enough for some businesses to be benefitting, while others continue to struggle.
“Clearly, the boat operators still have to pay the headcount taxes, they still procure services from a number of vendors in Antigua to include [the Antigua Public Utilities Authority] APUA in terms of refilling with potable water.
“So, there is that economic benefit that is attendant to the arrival of the ships at the moment, but we want the full benefit. [We will do] whatever we have to do to increase the number of persons who are alighting these ships and coming onshore to do business with our vendors who have been waiting for a very long time.”