By Kadeem Joseph
Although no cases of the dreaded coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) have been detected in the Caribbean, to date, a top hospitality industry official said that Antigua and Barbuda has already started to feel the impact of the disease on global travel.
While the Vice-Chairman of the Antigua Hotels and Tourism Association (AHTA) Alex de Brito did not quantify the impact so far, he said, “We already see some reductions in bookings coming forward.”
The tourism insider, who was a guest on OBSERVER media’s Big Issues on Sunday, warned that the impact of COVID-19 could generally have consequences, not only on the Caribbean’s tourism industry, but the world, if the present outbreak worsens.
“People are more and more concerned about being in the airport … about being eight hours in a flight with somebody [who] can be infected. We will see very shortly, some reductions in numbers of people travelling; I think we cannot avoid that that is coming,” de Brito cautioned.
He said while the economy may “start to suffer very soon” sacrifices will have to be made in order to protect the lives of residents.
The AHTA vice-chairman said the possibility of residents avoiding cruise ports would be a “natural” response to the disease.
However, De Brito is encouraging continuous education on proper hygiene for employees in the hospitality industry in order to minimise the effect of any eventuality.
Meanwhile, the former secretary general and chief executive officer at the Caribbean Tourism Organisation, Hugh Riley, while contributing to the same programme, agreed that a possible decline in arrivals due to the reluctance of people to travel could threaten the Caribbean tourism industry.
He believes that the potential lack of desire to travel not only surrounds COVID-19 but any other infectious disease.
“If and when we get threatened by anything like this, we have to figure out how to stay in business, what the messaging is…,” he added. “If it never happens, that’s terrific, but we cannot wait until it does to then be scrambling around.”
He is advising health and tourism officials to collaborate with other stakeholders in order to have an effective plan.
“If we don’t do that then we are not doing our job properly and we have to make sure that the information is available to the public,” Riley said, while underscoring that people must also know where to find the information.
The now partner in the Portfolio Marketing Group said that residents must also understand that Caribbean islands are “inextricably bound up with each other”, and that there is a tendency to group the islands of the region although all of the countries may not be affected by the same issue.
The Ministry of Health in Antigua and Barbuda has been sharing multiple updates surrounding COVID-19 with the media and on social platforms daily and continue to reiterate that there have been no cases detected in the country to date. There have been over 79,930 cases of the virus globally, with 2,465 deaths recorded so far.