It's been a long time coming, but it's happening on Oct. 31 -- and I'm not referring to Halloween or the switch to standard time or the arrival of the giant hunter's moon in the night sky.
It's the date that St. Kitts and Nevis plan to officially reopen their borders to international travelers, including those from the U.S.
The dual-island country is one of the last destinations in the region to reopen after the Covid shutdown. The British Virgin Islands have announced a Dec. 1 reopening; Cuba's date is Nov. 1 and in that same month Curacao reopens (but only to U.S. visitors who reside in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut).
Several other islands have been welcoming regional visitors since mid-September from within the Caribbean "bubble," a group of a dozen countries with low numbers of Covid cases.
Other destinations, including Bonaire, the Cayman Islands, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Montserrat, have reopened but not to travelers from the U.S.
Photo Credit: Jennifer Martins
Lindsay Grant, minister of tourism for St. Kitts and Nevis, put it this way: "We've been preparing for this for a long time. We've had time to plan and time to think about what life, travel and the tourism industry is all about. We've observed other islands, We've seen what they've done and what they've learned, and we learned from it."
As a prelude to the reopening, St. Kitts released a video entitled "Wander" that spotlights the less crowded appeal, the natural beauty and the peace of the two islands, according to Grant.
"The video has no voice-over," Grant said. "We've let the images and natural sounds do the talking. Our message to viewers is 'Stay away, we'll be there when you're ready.' And we're ready."
Tourism officials, government and medical teams and more than 2,000 hospitality workers who trained in protocols, and health and safety Covid measures also are ready.
"We're confident regarding the protocols we have in place. We're optimistic, and challenged, but we expect a smooth transition," Grant said.
St. Kitts and Nevis' entry protocols for U.S. visitors include proof of a negative Covid PCR test taken within 72 hours of arrival and a second PCR test upon arrival (the price for the test is $100, and travelers pay).
Visitors must then quarantine for seven days at one of four approved accommodations: The Park Hyatt, the Marriott and the Koi Resort on St. Kitts and the Four Seasons on Nevis. More will be added as properties are inspected and receive the destination's Travel Approval Seal. No Airbnb or homestay properties are in the pool, although some of these properties may be added at a later date.
Grant emphasized that visitors in quarantine will be able to move about the resorts and go to the on-site pools, beaches and restaurants.
A second PCR test is administered on the seventh day. If negative, those in quarantine are free to leave the property and go on select excursions and visit specific tourist sites (a list will soon be released).
For visitors staying longer, a third test is given on the 14th day. If negative, visitors are free to move about the two islands. If positive, the guest is moved to an isolation room at the resort or moved to a hospital, if necessary.
Guests headed for the Four Seasons in Nevis will be transferred on a dedicated bus from the airport in St. Kitts to the ferry pier to board an approved ferry for the ride to Nevis.
"No special Covid insurance is required for entry, but masks are required for visitors and locals," Grant said. "We need guests to understand that masks are for their protection and that of hotel employees so that all parties remain safe."
The fine for not wearing a mask is $175.
The minister warned that entry requirements and quarantine measures could change "if we have a spike, but we've been able to contain this virus so far. We've had a total of 19 positive cases and no deaths."
Grant admitted during a recent Caribbean Tourism Organization-hosted webinar that it "may be difficult to convince travelers on holiday to stay at one hotel during quarantine. We've been challenged by this. But we are all in a new normal now where the situation is fluid and changing. We all have to do things differently now. This is the environment we bring to our visitors now."
Under consideration is a split visit, spending several nights in quarantine at one of the four resorts and several nights at another.
Airlift is beginning to ramp up. American will offer three flights a week from Miami to St. Kitts beginning Nov. 7.
"We want daily flights, and we're in contact with other carriers for start dates as well," he said.
"We're all looking forward to the time when travel will be Covid-free, but until that day comes we will work hard to keep our residents and our visitors safe and happy," Grant said.