The slowdown in activity has provided more time to read and listen to discussions about what next for the Caribbean tourism sector. All agree it will be a long and arduous process to get travel numbers back up. However, whether it is a quick or slow recovery, things won’t return to the way they were and for businesses who rely on visitors to eek out a living they must be prepared to deal with the ramifications of new expectations and fears for those who come.
I truly believe that Montserrat has the assets to be the perfect post COVID-19 holiday destination and we need to play to our strengths. Here’s why.
This six-letter word has been blamed for all of Montserrat’s woes. If only we had a longer runway, if only we could land bigger planes, if only we had a better port. But right now and for the foreseeable future less is definitely more.
Suddenly flying in and staring at the breathtaking view with only two other passengers aboard will be a good thing as travelers will crave distance. Airlines will need to provide assurance that the aircraft is sanitized frequently and the experience from the time they arrive at the counter at the V.C. Bird International Airport in Antigua needs to attest to that.
Online booking should be encouraged. An app that allows checking in luggage rather than use of a kiosk which everyone can touch at the airport will also be an efficient way to reassure passengers but also reduce touch points.
For those using the ferry, the terminal in Antigua needs to become a much more relaxed and comforting experience. Cleanliness and comfort need to be a priority. The space at Heritage Quay is open so people walk by and pop in and out. Creating a sense of privacy and separation can help to alleviate some of the concerns about hygiene and maintaining physical distance. While the ferry service is considered the cheapest way to get to Montserrat, the experience every traveller receives should feel like a premium one.
This feeling should carry over to stepping on the boat. Again, a sense that cleanliness and privacy is a priority has to be communicated.
Once they arrive at port Little Bay, the welcome should be warm and as low touch as possible.
The importance of low touch is not only to assure the arriving passenger but for the well-being of the people who work to get them here and provide access through Customs and Immigration. A mobile app which enables the visitor to be pre-approved for travel much like we do when we want to travel to the USA or Canada. The app should provide officials with verification that they have been tested and are COVID-19-free, and whether they have recently been in a high-risk country. This will assist immigration and customs officials in deciding how to engage with them upon arrival. Pre-approval could mean the difference between a two-minute processing time that gets you straight to your holiday or business undertaking or having to wait to get a rapid test and be sent off to quarantine.
We love the articles which list Montserrat as one of the safest places in the Caribbean and the world. This is the time to use this to our advantage and add that we are COVID-19 free and that all our properties have met an established safety standard.
A Certified Safe campaign, which results in every property being assessed and rewarded with a badge identifying them as ready for occupancy will send a message that the island is serious about caring for its people and visitors.
Spreading the word will be the responsibility of every property owner and establishment in this sector. It isn’t merely the job of the tourism division.
Privacy and Friendliness
Our size and the simplicity of life means that privacy can become our hallmark. Suddenly those long stretches of black sand with no other bodies in sight are an even greater draw. If we want to stop by a roadside bar for a drink like at the People’s Place in Hilltop, it’s open and with limited seating you don’t have to worry about being crowded in.
Having villas and apartments as the largest part of our accommodation stock is a plus. It means, more separation and the chance for more one-on-one attention for our guests. It will be important to reassure them that the property has achieved the safety standard. Before arrival, it should be clearly communicated what changes have been made to how the villa is cleaned, how linens and other products are cared for. Showing that hygiene and wellness are of high concern is paramount. Suddenly, the things that we take for granted about how we clean our properties will be of extremely high importance.
Cleaning companies can use this opportunity as well to put a face to their crew. People will want to know that the person who they see come in to clean the pool or the room is the one who they were introduced to at the time of their arrival or noted in their welcome pack. Find ways to provide constant reassurance that who is on the property are supposed to be there.
Watersports such as snorkeling, kayaking and diving are singular or small group activities. This can be played up even more. Encourage travelers to bring their own gear or ensure that they have the option to rent or purchase their own once they arrive. If they are renting, then clearly outline the process for how the snorkels are cleaned and maintained after each use. Consider, packaging them in much the way airlines seal their blankets after they are washed so you have to open it to use. This gives the impression that you are getting a new one every time.
Kayaks and other gear can receive a clearly visible stamp to show when it was last used and cleaned, similar to a freshness label on food in a store.
Tour guides should work to be more visible and friendly. Going online to promote the tours available but also to let visitors get to know you before they arrive will provide reassurance. No more trying to pack in as many people as possible. Individual experiences must be pushed above all else.
Every dining experience needs to feel like an exclusive one. More space between tables. A server assigned who is limited to one or two tables. Opportunities to have dinner on a private beach or away from other guests must be encouraged.
There is nothing like pulling up at Drive By Bar for a drink or some fried fish or heading to Nadine’s for barbecue, and these desires won’t disappear. Even if the food place is standing room only, finding ways to reduce wait time by allowing for online ordering and payment, more delivery or drive by pick up should be options that are implemented to ensure that customers can be served without having to deal with a crowd.
There are many other things that we take for granted as life on Montserrat which can be played up to show off why we are the perfect post COVID-19 destination. Every resident, business owner, tourism sector worker, and tourism official must communicate this in as many ways as possible. Businesses must do more to let customers know they are open and safe. Visitors will need constant reassurance that they will be cared for and that their health is our priority. Employees should be retrained to improve safety practices and every traveler should be seen as a premium one.
Nerissa Golden is the Editor of Discover Montserrat, a media and business strategist who helps clients communicate more effectively online, and a certified Business Continuity Specialist.