BARBADOS: Potential visitors frustrated, unsure of reopening plans

(BARBADOS TODAY) – With just over a week to go before international commercial flights resume at the Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA), potential travellers from hard-hit COVID-19 countries are frustrated that while airlines have been given the greenlight, hotels remain shuttered and protocols for entering the island are unclear.

The GAIA will open for flights from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) later this month and for extra-regional airlines from July.

And while several of the island’s main airline partners have confirmed flights for next month, Barbados TODAY understands that some flights that were booked for dates early in July, as well as some hotel reservations, were recently cancelled.

The Government has announced a policy of home quarantine for passengers arriving from CARICOM and other “low-risk” countries of origin. However, it is yet to give guidelines for people coming from countries like the United States, United Kingdom and Canada, which are among the top 20 countries with cases of the highly contagious virus.

Karen Florian, who is based in New York, told Barbados TODAY she had booked her trip since March 14, a few days before the country was affected by the pandemic.

She was scheduled to arrive with her husband and another couple on July 2, for a ten-day stay, but the St James hotel they had booked informed her this week it would not be reopening in time for her visit.

“They told me it was an order from the Government. It is frustrating because we cannot get a refund from our airline as they are still planning on arriving to the island since it will be open for tourists,” Florian said.

The reopening of the island for commercial flights requires that the GAIA and hotels implement certain protocols to protect staff and guests.

Efforts to reach Minister of Tourism Kerrie Symmonds were unsuccessful. However, Barbados TODAY understands that some hotels have delayed their reopening to August because they were still in the process of putting those measures in place and were also awaiting clear guidelines from authorities.

Florian said the total cost of hotel and airfare for her trip amounted to $9 500, and while the hotel will refund the $5 000 which will take between four and eight weeks for her to get, the ticket cost would not be refunded.

She explained: “We can cancel and then we would get a credit for the airline to use within a year.”

Florian added that her group was no longer looking for alternative accommodation, stressing that the “mixed and unclear instructions as to what will be required of us when we arrive at our destination” was fueling frustration and disappointment.

“I will not travel if it is necessary to be tested when I arrive. I am willing to get tested 48 hours prior to my arrival and bring results, but will not travel if there is any possibility that I will be tested on arrival and therefore wind up quarantined,” she said.

“As far as being quarantined in your hotel, who would want to spend the amount of money that we are spending just be kept locked up in your hotel room? If they test upon arrival and it is positive you are stuck. They should allow passengers to be tested at home 48 hours prior to arrival so they know they can enjoy their holiday when they land.”

Florian said that while she understood things were changing on a daily basis due to the COVID-19 pandemic, “it is just frustrating” not to have a clear picture at this point of what was likely to happen with people from the US, given that airlines would be allowed to come but some hotels were not ready to open.

Cancellations on the part of the airlines have also upset other potential visitors.

One woman in London told Barbados TODAY she was due to arrive on a British Airways flight on July 2, for a 10-day stay. It would have been her first time to the island and she had plans to spend part of the trip with family and a few days at a Christ Church hotel.

“I am disappointed,” she said. “We were booked with British Airways and they cancelled everything two weeks ago.”

She said the reason cited was related to the pandemic and she was given a full refund and the option of travelling up to March next year.

According to a GAIA summer airline schedule for 2020, which was updated on June 13, British Airways has confirmed flights starting July 18.

American citizen Roxanne Marshall, who is married to a Barbadian, said her trip was initially planned for May 20 to celebrate her 10-year wedding anniversary.

“We decided not to go anywhere else but to Barbados to celebrate. Each year, we try to do something different when financially able and this year was one of those years,” said Marshall, adding that she was eagerly looking forward to her trip to Barbados “even with the current pandemic”.

However, she said she was also eager to know what protocols would be employed by officials here once she disembarked her JetBlue flight.

She said she was prepared to wear a mask, travel with disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer, and obey the rules.

“All destination can just make testing part of their requirements and for you to show proof before boarding an airplane,” Marshall suggested.

“Not only will this protect the destination, but also the other passengers onboard the airplane. This is certainly a win-win outcome.”

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