The year has been unnerving one for all of us, but for those involved in travel and tourism, it's been a time that's called for extraordinary innovation, communication, strategies and thinking well outside the box, not to mention long hours, patience and skills in handling frustrated travelers, cancellations and the ever-changing maze of entry protocols.
However, many have maneuvered through this, and done it well.
I've got Zoom and webinar overload like many others, but these online briefings served a purpose and taught me a lot about a region I thought I knew pretty well.
In particular, the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) and the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) have offered speakers, topics and presentations that brought Covid's realities into sharp focus.
Hoteliers outlined health and hygiene measures for their guests and staff -- who could have guessed a year ago that "contactless check-in" would become a staple of a resort stay?
Destinations and tourist boards alerted me to reopening dates, airlift returns, protocols for entry, virtual happy hours and marketing initiatives designed to attract digital nomads to work and play in beach locales.
Here are highlights from a recent CTO webinar, dubbed a virtual learning session, with destination updates and selling points aimed at travel advisors; 150 of them tuned in.
British Virgin Islands
The BVI opens today, Dec. 1, to international visitors, and ferry service from St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands will resume Dec. 8, according to Perla George, business development manager, North America, for the tourist board.
In advance of the border reopening, BVI bars and restaurants were allowed to reopen their doors to local patrons. The iconic Soggy Dollar Bar on White Bay on Jost Van Dyke poured its first Painkiller rum cocktail since March 17.
A change in an entry requirement now calls for a PCR test result taken within 72 hours of date of arrival versus the former seven-day requirement. "The measure is one more step to maintain a low case count, given the rising numbers of positive Covid cases around the world," said Renee Goodwin, acting marketing manager of the Grenada Tourism Authority.
For visitors who do brave the testing gantlet, Cavaks, one of Grenada's newest tour operators, features transparent, see-though kayaks to explore the underwater landscape. Spice Isle Exploration, another new tour company, takes visitors to the sister islands Carriacou and Petite Martinique and offers sunset sails, as well.
Goodwin reported that Annandale Waterfalls has reopened under new management. Other sites that have reopened include Grand Etang Rainforest Preserve, Fort Frederick, Gouyave Nutmeg Processing Station and Diamond Chocolate Factory.
The island's SLEx travel experts program has grown to more than 30,000 travel advisor specialists, according to Richard Moss, senior sales manager at the St. Lucia Tourism Authority.
"More than 80% of our accommodations properties have reopened, and more than 80% of our airlift has returned," Moss said.
"St. Lucia is not a mass destination, and we are not selling sun, sand and sea exclusively -- we are selling the total vacation experience," he said.
He reminded viewers that masks are required except at beaches, pools and restaurants.
The island has 21 properties certified by medical officials as safe for visitors, according to Lise Cuffy with Discover Dominica tourism board.
Dominica launched a Safe in Nature initiative this fall and recently was named by National Geographic as having some of the best offerings for adventure travelers.
"Our challenge is having no international airport, but with flights on regional carriers from a number of gateways, including Antigua, Barbados, Puerto Rico, St. Maarten, St. Lucia and the U.S. Virgin Islands, it is possible for the U.S. visitor to get to Dominica in one day," Cuffy said.
"There's been no community spread of Covid cases, and our case numbers remain low, primarily brought in from abroad," said Deborah Millington, with Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc.
The Welcome Stamp program, launched this summer for visitors to live and work remotely in Barbados, has generated much interest and a number of applications, according to Millington.
The border is open between the Dutch and French sides of the island. U.S. visitors can stay in hotels, villas, guest houses and apartments on the French side, effective Dec. 1, according to a special waiver from France, which was approved on Nov. 20, according to Elsie Marishaw, a representative of the Office de Tourisme in St. Martin.
However, Belmond La Samanna remains closed for the 2020-2021 season, and Secrets St. Martin has delayed its reopening until mid-December.
Grand Case Beach Club is accepting reservations.
On the Dutch side, more than 300 restaurants have reopened, as well as many resorts, according to Marla Chemont, marketing assistant for North America, St. Maarten Tourist Bureau.
Properties, attractions and accommodations must be inspected and approved before receiving a Safe Seal certification.
Antigua and Barbuda
Colin James, CEO of the Antigua Barbuda Tourism Authority, reported that 17 major hotels have reopened, representing 60% of the room inventory. James added that 14% more inventory will be coming on line in December.
The markets for villas has increased because they are offer more space, especially for families traveling together, according to James.
Social distancing measures are followed in both islands. "We like to say that people should stay nine coconuts away from each other," James said.
Airlift is resuming with American flights from Miami and New York JFK, as well as Delta from Atlanta and United from Newark.
Warren Solomon, director of tourism, reported that there is no reopening date yet for international visitors, but he hinted that an announcement could be coming by the end of the year.
The country has had 13 cases of Covid, primarily among returning residents, and one death.
When Montserrat does reopen, its most popular tour, called The Buried City of Plymouth, will again be offered. The tour takes in the site of the former capital of Plymouth in the southern half of the island, which now lies buried under 60 feet of ash and mud from the volcanic eruptions in the mid-1990s.
The website visitmontserrat.com, which launched this fall, is generating awareness of the island's history, culture, sites and attractions, according to Solomon.
"While leisure travel is still prohibited, it is critical that the destination remains visible to the travel market, so that when the borders do reopen, Montserrat will be a warm-weather destination considered by consumers," he said.