Fed-up tour operators say they’re being ‘left in limbo’

Creole Antigua Tours (Photo courtesy @Tropical_visions)
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By Carlena Knight

Several tour operators ready to resume work are airing their frustration over a “lack of communication” from government officials regarding reopening their businesses.

One of those is the principal of Adventure Antigua, Eli Fuller, who said he has been getting the run around from tourism and health officials despite having submitted suggestions for Covid-related guidelines.

“We’ve never really gotten any directive in 2020, to this date, from anybody in government. We’ve never had anything from the Ministry of Health, we’ve never had anything from the Ministry of Tourism, we’ve never had anything from any government department giving us any message, guidelines, warnings, nothing. So, we have been spending our time trying to get the information from the government,” he said.

Fuller disclosed that he was a part of the Tourism Recovery Task Force subcommittee and had in fact drafted an outline of the various plans the group of excursion businesses put together. He said he submitted this draft on May 20 and received word that health officials were looking into it. However, he said he was shocked a week later to hear that every other business would reopen, except for excursions.

“I was the only one to receive a letter indicating that excursions would not be given permission or the chance to reopen on June 1st because the Ministry of Health were still looking at the protocols, but when contacted they said they knew nothing about this document,” Fuller explained.

“It’s just a lot of confusion. We are just stuck in limbo waiting for someone to say, hey look, this is the prerequisite, or we’ve reviewed your protocols, these are acceptable to us and we will come and inspect your boats so that you can reach the protocol. It’s just frustrating,” he said.

In fact, Fuller said that even before the Covid-19 pandemic, tour operators had been left out of the loop when tourism officials were having discussions.

Xabier Ross, the owner of Wadadli Cats, shared similar sentiments and further explained how the pandemic has impacted his business.

“It’s a huge problem. I’ve heard talks that we are going to be coming in during the second phase, but I don’t know when that phase is, and at the middle of this month I have to answer to my staff if we are either going to return to work or if I have to sever people,” Ross said.

“Everybody is just up in limbo. I feel more for my staff because they all have mortgages and car payments and we don’t know when we can work and I find it very difficult that restaurants are back up and operating, nightclubs are given permission to work and [we] can’t work. I just don’t see the sense of it. It just doesn’t make sense to me, but I am hoping they give us the okay to start working within the next few weeks.”

Creole Antigua Tours’ owner Glen Hector also told Observer that heis concerned for his staff. He believes that even if they do get the opportunity to continue operations that it may take a while before his business will see any profits.

Hector, along with Fuller and Ross, however, outlined a few measures they have already implemented to include limiting passenger numbers, installing sanitising stations, and the non-consumption of alcohol. These, they said, are measures which can be easily adhered to, and their operations are among the safest as they are outdoors, and their boats are easy to clean.

All three men are calling on officials to have better communication on the way forward.

Chief Health Inspector Sharon Martin told Observer her department, which has been leading the inspection process, was currently “overwhelmed” but pledged to look into the matter.

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