Tourism Minister, Carlos James, addressed a gathering of vendors who are housed at the Cruise Ship Terminal in Kingstown, in a pre-season move, to ready this country’s largest portal to cruise passengers from around the world.
Last Friday James told the shop owners of his government’s plans to turn that commercial hub into a “COVID-19 bubble on the days when [cruise] ships are in” port.
“This terminal will become part of the bubble of cruise tourism and if anyone is objecting to being part of the bubble – if the taxi men say look they don’t want no bubble and you say you don’t want no bubble then it means that no ships would be coming.
“But they are saying they want the bubble as well and they want to be vaccinated and they want the people that they come in contact with to be vaccinated. So that whole bubble concept is going to be with us for a short while until we could really figure out what we’re doing with this COVID situation internationally; that essentially is what we are up against.
“But I am here to work with you. I’m here to ensure that this takes place and that it becomes a success for all of us,” the first term Tourism MP said.
One of the concerns that immediately surfaced from the Cruise Ship Terminal’s tenants was the impact of the bubble restrictions on the already dwindling stream of locally based clientele.
“If the local customers are vaccinated, would they be included in the bubble?” one vendor asked Minister James.
James responded, “we want to be very cautious with how it’s done, make sure that we ourselves can manage – including you who are operators here – can effectively manage the volume of people who would come off the ships.
“And then once all of us, collectively, think that it’s the best option; we could handle any and all issues, then we could look at that at some point. But we have to be very cautious with how we operate in relation to this.
“I think it’s only fair if we’re going to start something we don’t put other persons at risk, just as yet, until we are sure that this is going to work effectively and in our best interests.”
As for pro-choice unvaccinated shop operators, “therein lies the challenge now if it then becomes a bubble and as I mentioned part of the requirements to be in the bubble is vaccination; these are some of the challenges we’ll have to work out as to how we operate on that specific day.
“Like I said for instance going to the [Botanic] Gardens on that day we would limit access for persons going in for that very health reason to ensure that we safeguard the general population and that we protect the general population,” the Tourism Minister explained.
One food vendor attempted to examine the working logistics of the proposed COVID-19 safe zone.
“During the time in which the ship is docked are employees and shop owners allowed to go back and forth to the outside of the terminal?” she questioned.
James told the gathering of largely women, “once you’re part of the bubble you can. It’s not a case where you are trapped and you can’t leave.
“You’re free to leave the bubble at anytime but once you are part of the bubble – and there are certain criterion for being a part of the bubble.”
Another vendor intimated that the specific criteria is still being ironed out though they were forewarned in James’ speech that every vendor who chooses to participate in the bubble exercise must be inoculated against the COVID-19 virus.
This prompted another question about the fate of operators whose health conditions prevent them from taking any of the COVID-19 vaccines.
James reminded the gathering that all those questions and more would be best put to either the Chief Medical Officer or her designate and any of the other stakeholders who would be present at a quickly approaching industry inclusive discussion.
“On August 4 and 5, that stakeholders conference – and that’s essentially why I am here to talk to you; about the 4th and 5th of August. That stakeholder’s conference is really where we flesh out a lot of the, the –
“these questions that are being asked now I could answer them but really the people that we put in – for example the CMO might be there if it’s a question on the vaccine or a member of her team might be there.
“If it’s a question regarding the tourism authority with certification and so on; the CEO of the Tourism Authority [and] other persons would be there to answer questions.
“So you’d get the best of both worlds where you can come together – and we a predicting that we would have quite a few, maybe thousands of, people joining that stakeholders conference,” Tourism Minister Carlos James said.
The Kingstown based Cruise Ship Terminal will host a hub for approximately “twenty plus of you here and we have a number of hubs across the island, including the Grenadines.”
He reiterated that Friday’s meeting was a more an “informal” affair although it was supposed to help him “get a feel” of how the vendors were faring as well as “how we can play our part as stakeholders in the industry and on the 4th and 5th we will go deeper into the discussion.”
The two-day conference is expected to get underway from 9 a.m.
James entreated his audience to stay tuned to his Ministry’s upcoming media conference on Tuesday 27, and promised to announce the date of that port Kingstown welcomes the first major cruise ship amongst other new information.
“I know it’s very important that we get traffic through here [Cruise Ship Terminal] and we have to try and really aim at getting that done this year. I don’t think any of us could really afford another year like this last one,” James said.