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A spike of COVID-19 cases in the Bahamas and the U.S. has led the former to close its borders to international flights and commercial vessels carrying U.S. passengers, effective beginning Wednesday, July 22."Private flights and charters from the U.S., as well as pleasure craft and yachts will be permitted, and travelers from Canada, the U.K. and the EU are exempt from the emergency order," according to a statement from the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism.All visitors are still required to present a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR test from a referenced lab, taken no more than 10 days prior to the date of travel. "Since opening borders to international travel on July 1, The Bahamas has unfortunately experienced a deterioration in conditions relative to COVID-19," according to the statement. "These restrictions have been put in place to protect the health and well-being of both residents and visitors, which remains of primary importance, and to prevent the spread of the virus throughout The Bahamas."
Boat and plane owners daydreaming of a Caribbean getaway received some welcome news from The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation earlier this month, when officials announced plans to reopen the island nation on June 15, 2020, to international visitors arriving by yacht or private aviation. Other travelers will have to wait until at least July 1, however, when the Bahamas are slated to resume welcoming visitors arriving on international commercial flights.
“There is going to be a new normal when it comes to travel in the wake of COVID-19,” said Ellison Thompson, deputy director general of The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation. “We know that a lot is going to change at every checkpoint of a traveler's journey. We, of course, are going to comply and implement every possible safety measure to mitigate concern.”
At a press conference in Nassau on June 2, tourism ministry officials unveiled a multiphase “Tourism Readiness and Recovery Plan.” According to the plan, hotels will also be allowed to reopen to staff on June 15, so they can prepare the properties for guest arrivals starting July 1.
“This date is not set in stone and will be adjusted as needed based on COVID-19 trends,” Thompson said. “When we do reopen for tourism, it will apply only to those islands where the outbreak has been contained. As of today, these islands include Cat Island, Long Island, The Abacos and Andros Island.”
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As of press time, 103 confirmed COVID-19 cases and a total of 11 related deaths have been reported in the Bahamas, as listed by the country’s Ministry of Health website.
According to several travel advisors who have long sold the destination, there is interest in the Bahamas, but few clients are actually booking trips.
“No one wants to be the first ones in,” said Margie Hand, an advisor affiliated with Andavo Travel in Birmingham, Ala. “And people are hesitant to book when they’re not exactly sure when things will open.”
Hand says she has received a number of recent inquiries from clients about the Bahamas. But their hesitation to book so soon after the islands reopen has met another significant concern: the coming hurricane season’s peak months of August, September and October.
“I’ve had a lot of people mention that they’re afraid to book for fall because they’re afraid of hurricanes,” Hand said.
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Kari Mollan, an advisor at Stellar Travel in Bellevue, Wash., also says a number of her clients have reached out about the Bahamas. And while American Airlines has announced it will resume international flights to Nassau and Exuma July 7, Mollan believes the shortage of commercial flights remains a substantial hurdle.
“Flights aren’t scheduled, so I can’t book anything,” she said. “But clients have said, ‘You know when things open and I’m actually able to book a flight again, I would like to go ahead and schedule a trip to Atlantis — because we need a break.’”
There is going to be a new normal when it comes to travel in the wake of COVID-19. We know that a lot is going to change at every checkpoint of a traveler's journey. We, of course, are going to comply and implement every possible safety measure to mitigate concern.
When Should People Visit the Bahamas?With worries about returning too soon to the Bahamas plaguing clients, and the fast-approaching hurricane season dampening interest in an early fall trip, Becky Word, owner of Word Destinations in Gadsden, Ala., has suggested that clients consider visiting during the holiday season.
“November, December and January — all will be an excellent time to go,” Word said.
Andavo Travel’s Hand is skeptical the destination will see noteworthy arrivals figures in 2020, and she agrees that the holidays seem to make more sense for her clients.
“I think possibly the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s time frame is really where we’re going to see things pick up,” she said.
Mollan of Stellar Travel says the Bahamas may be a good early jumping-off point for her clients ready to travel again.
“I think the destination is going to be one where people say, ‘OK, let’s give it a trial for a three-day weekend and see how we feel about how things are going,’” she said. “You’re not flying all the way to the South Pacific or all the way to Europe, so I think it’s going to be a good tester.”
Distance DilemmasTourism officials in the Bahamas also outlined on June 2 several safety protocols for airports, hotels, transportation and restaurants.
Mandatory temperature checks and mask requirements will greet travelers at the nation’s airports. Restaurants will do away with buffets, and hotels will employ enhanced cleaning procedures and regularly monitor staff temperatures, among a host of other safety regulations.
Citing some of her clients’ worries about exposure at larger properties with many guests, Word suggests that the smaller Out Islands (also known as the Family Islands) of the Bahamas may ultimately end up being a popular selling point.
Hand agrees about the potential allure of the Out Islands, pointing to The Abacos, Andros Island and Long Island as destinations offering a number of positives for her clients traveling as families.
“Those smaller islands that have one or two properties on the island will be a big draw,” she said. “When we have families start to travel, they’re going to want to be in places that have more options to spread out and that don’t have 500 rooms.”
Mollan, meanwhile, is quick to mention another important selling point to keep in mind.
“The Bahamian people are amazing,” she said. “It’s kind of like coming home when you go to the Bahamas. Everybody’s so darn friendly, and people need that. People need to feel comfortable now.”
The Details The Islands of the Bahamas www.bahamas.com