Dominica, which has been closed to visitor since March to mitigate the spread of Covid, reopened to returning residents and repatriated nationals on July 15 and will welcome all international travelers on Aug. 7.
"This is a date written in stone -- for now," Colin Piper, CEO of Discover Dominica Authority and director of tourism warned on July 27. "But there could be reasons to assess it and to alter protocols.
"It's been 100 days since the last case on the island," he said. And through collaborative efforts with the island's health ministry, the World Health Organization and other health organizations, he said, "Dominica has worked long and hard to prepare safety and hygiene protocols and to communicate entry and on-island requirements through our website, webinars, social media channels and community outreach programs," Piper said.
"We've worked through various scenarios of what might or could happen in case of outbreaks of Covid," he said. "We're monitoring what is happening in our source markets, we're watching what other islands are doing and we do feel that the time is right for Dominica to carefully reopen to the world."
More than 200 residents and nationals have returned since mid-July and "we've managed well," he said. "It gave us the opportunity to see how the pre-arrival requirements were met and how smoothly the airport arrivals were handled."
During a phone interview and later a CTO webinar, Piper emphasized the three compulsory requirements for arriving passengers: visitors must upload an online health questionnaire at least 24 hours prior to arrival; submit a negative PCR test result recorded between 24 and 72 hours before arrival; and receive an email notification from Dominica of clearance to travel.
If travelers don't meet these requirements, they will be told to hold off their travel plans. If documents aren't presented at boarding, the passenger will be denied.
He was asked if the airlines had balked at this requirement on their part.
"Carriers want to fill seats as much as we want to welcome travelers," he said. "We have clearly stipulated our rules to the major airlines that bring travelers to the Caribbean and to the regional carriers that serve us from those seven hubs. We have good relations with them and have kept them informed all along the way."
Once on the ground in Dominica, visitors have a temperature check and undergo rapid test screening at no charge, with results available in 15 to 20 minutes.
If it's negative, guests proceed to immigration and customs and go on their way in a taxi that's been certified safe, driven by a mask-wearing driver who has been trained in these protocols, who will take them to one of eight properties that have been certified safe by our Environmental Health Department, Piper said.
These currently are the Cabrits Resort and Spa Kempinski, Rosalie Bay, Secret Bay, Tamarind Tree Hotel, the Champs, Riverside Hotel, Banana Lama and Mango Garden Cottages.
Travelers who have high temperatures or test positive in the rapid test will be given a PCR test ($40) and go to mandatory quarantine at a government-approved facility or government-approved hotel at their own expense ($200 a day) to await results, usually within 48 hours. If that test is positive, they'll be admitted to a Covid isolation unit for 14 days.
The bottom line is that everyone arriving in Dominica gets tested on arrival, in addition to having submitted a negative Covid test prior to their arrival.
"This is why it is so important for travelers to familiarize themselves with all our requirements," Piper said. "Because we are a small island state, the pre-arrival negative test and health questionnaire act as a buffer to eliminate problems from the start. Then our protocols upon arrival act as double safeguard. All this adds up to a workable scenario."
While all these requirements may seem unwieldy and time-consuming and the traveler is obligated to fulfill the criteria, Piper feels he knows his audience.
"We're the Nature Island. We serve a niche market. Travelers come here to explore on hiking trails all over the island, swim in our rivers, splash in our waterfalls, admire the flora and fauna. Our natural attractions are open and our guides have been retrained in these health and safety protocols," he said.
"Dominica is the right prescription. It's the antidote to what visitors in our source markets have gone through since March."
Bookings are coming in, slowly, for August. "There is curiosity and demand, especially for the fourth quarter and early 2021. I do remain cautiously optimistic," Piper said.