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Pressure From The Air To Open Tourism

Posted By: Marty

Pressure From The Air To Open Tourism - 06/05/20 10:17 AM

Belize has been grappling with the timeline to open its international airport, juggling the competing interests of tourism survival against human survival - that is, letting tourists in, versus keeping Belize COVID-free.

Sources tell us that as recently as yesterday, plans were being hatched to proceed with a half opening of the airport in July - but we are told those plans were dashed at the last minute.

And, with no date in sight, stakeholders in the tourism industry have been coming forward to amplify their concerns about the continued damage that the border closure is doing to the economy.

While the Barrow Government grapples with the difficult choice between economic survival and public health, other Caribbean nations that heavily depend on tourism are pushing forward to reopen their borders.

Antigua and Barbuda reopened to all countries today, and they received their first flight from American Airlines. St. Lucia was also scheduled to reopen its borders. Jamaica will do the same on June 15th, and the Bahamas will reopen on July 1st.

This morning, the Deputy Director of Operations at Tropic Air, Belize biggest domestic air-carrier, granted us an interview. He wanted to make the point that if we wait too long to do the same, that indecision will cause significant delays in the country's economic recovery.

Here's how he explained why, with a perspective on how the international airline companies may start to look at which countries they can begin flights to:

Ravei Nunez - Deputy Director of Operations, Tropic Air

"Other countries that depend on tourism, to a greater or lesser extent than Belize, have announced that they'll be opening their borders. There's a lot of questions as to why this would be, why those countries would choose to do that, and why Belize would choose not to do that. From our perspective, it's clear why those countries would do that. So, what Jamaica, Aruba, Mexico, France to some extent, and other countries in Europe have done, is that they've looked at the lay of the land, and they've determined that there is a time-sensitive issue with regards. They've determined that these airlines will go to each country and determine, 1, whether the country is available for flights, 2, whether it's commercially viable for them to have those flights that country. So, there's a short-list. These airlines have determined that only a percentage of their assets will be deployed over a period of time. Most airlines are averaging 2-5 years before they're looking at full flights, as in the full schedule that they had pre-COVID. So, if Belize is making the decision that we will keep our borders (closed), while other countries are choosing to open their borders, we're falling further and further down on the list. This means, eventually, we may not see flights coming to Belize until the airlines have decided that yes, we will deploy 1 or 2 more assets to fly to Belize. After we've opened, it will take 1 to 2 months for the airlines to determine yes, we'll start flying to Belize on X date. After that X date, you're still looking at another 2-3 months before we see passengers start to fly to Belize. So, that puts off - even if we were to open July 15th. That puts off any meaningful benefit to that decision until all the way to September, October before we start seeing the benefits of it."

We also asked Nunez to discuss the current hold up, and why the government isn't prepared to reopen the PGIA. You'll remember how the Prime Minister said last week that the International Air Transport Association, disapproved of Belize's proposal to require travel testing for international visitors. According to the PM, the IATA made it clear that this is not a viable option, and that Belize should wait on the development of a reliable rapid test.

Nunez told us that after reviewing all of IATA's written recommendations for COVID-19 and air travel, he has not seen any document from them in which they mandate rapid testing as a requirement for reopening airports:

Ravei Nunez - Deputy Director of Operations, Tropic Air

"The international bodies have presented recommendations and/or guidelines. So ICAO, for example, deals with regulations. So, they can tell us what we need to do. Bodies like IATA give recommendations, guidelines, and best practices to ensure the long-term survivability and profitability of airlines. There has been documentation where IATA has said it supports rapid testing. It has never, in any of its documentation, placed rapid testing for the opening of any airport or any facility that supports aviation. The Prime Minister has said that in addition to his concerns about coronavirus coming into Belize and they're being secondary infections as a result, that he has great concerns about the socio-economic impact of the course of action that we're currently undertaking. He's mentioned - I think the words he used were that he grieves for Belize because the course of action we're on will come with grave socio-economic consequences."

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