As Tropical Spots Reopen, Here’s What You Need to Know

Hoping short flights and outdoor appeal will lure visitors, countries in the Caribbean and Latin America are taking different approaches to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

By Elaine Glusac

With travel to much of the world from America still shut down, countries in the Caribbean and Latin America are counting on their relative proximity to the United States (meaning short flights) and appeal as outdoor destinations (meaning social distancing) to restart tourism.

“We have a very interesting competitive advantage in these Covid times because we have such a natural setting, with over 30 percent of our land surface as protected areas,” said Ivan Eskildsen, Panama’s minister for tourism. That country reopened its borders to Americans Oct. 12.

Most of the newly reopened destinations are requiring visitors to show negative coronavirus test results before entry. That has airlines, as well as airport-based testing services, jumping in: American Airlines announced that it will offer preflight testing for travelers bound to the Bahamas, Costa Rica and Jamaica from some airports beginning this month.

If testing is not enough to reassure tourists, the countries are using tactics like restricting visitor numbers, limiting where they can go and requiring medical insurance.

Many of the region’s resorts and hotels are relying on an old-fashioned strategy: deals, from 20 percent off in Mexico to room upgrades in Costa Rica. Resorts “are offering much more attractive rates, many discarding their three- to six-month cancellations and eliminating minimum stays,” said Jack Ezon, the founder of the New York City-based travel agency Embark Beyond.

The region usually sees a slowdown in visitors in the fall and destinations are taking advantage of the slower visitor traffic to prepare for the traditionally busy December holidays and what they hope will be a return to more normal tourist numbers in 2021.

“It gives them a runway for a soft opening before bigger crowds come in peak season,” said Rob Harper, the co-owner of the Panama-based agency Namu Travel.

The gradual approach reflects a lesson learned over the summer when the Bahamas reopened, only to backtrack as coronavirus cases spiked. Other destinations in the region are taking a piecemeal approach, including Curacao, which recently allowed in American travelers from Florida, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut only. Still others, like the Cayman Islands have not announced dates for restarting leisure travel.

Here’s how five tropical countries are handling reopening. All but Mexico have received the World Travel & Tourism Council’s Safe Travel certification for implementing public health protocols, including hotel staff training in Covid-19 prevention.

The Bahamas: Triple testing

Across the 700 islands of the Bahamas, new rules instituted this month take a cautious approach to reopening, with the focus on testing: All travelers over age 10 must submit negative results from a coronavirus test taken no more than five days before arrival and apply for a visa at a government website that includes a health checklist. Until Oct. 31, travelers must “vacation in place” at their resort or rental for up to 14 days, a restriction that will be lifted Nov. 1.

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