I would like to thank you the stakeholders and the members of the media for joining us this morning.
Ladies and gentlemen, exactly one month ago on Friday 6th August, I offered an update on the state of the cruise sector which highlighted the following:
- Continued efforts between the Ministry of Tourism, St. Kitts Tourism Authority and the Ministry of Health to identify protocols that enhanced safety and competitiveness.
- Cancellation of calls due to the difference in protocols of the destination and cruise lines.
- Continued efforts of the Ministry of Tourism, St. Kitts Tourism Authority and the Ministry of Health to resume the cruise sector safely.
- An update on the visits of the Seabourn Odyssey which was the first vessel to return to our chores on July 22nd 2021. To date we have received 7 calls from Seabourn Odyssey.
Since I last spoke to you, we have been able to make significant strides as we recently approved the use of Antigen tests to be used by cruise lines to test fully vaccinated passengers in addition to the gold standard RT PCR tests. This approval has allowed us to be more competitive as a cruise destination as we continue on our phased approach to rebuilding the cruise sector.
Regionally and globally, we have recently seen many changes in the regional and global industries. We are now facing the highly transmissible Delta Variant that continues to propel surges across the globe. Resuming cruise operations during the pandemic continues to be fluid and challenging for both destinations and cruise lines. In the past month alone, we have been made aware of cruise lines such as Carnival changing their protocols to enforce mask mandates and destinations such as the Bahamas restricting unvaccinated passengers.
Over the past few weeks and days, my team and I have engaged the cruise lines in discussions with the singular aim of bringing ships back to our shores and to do it safely. As we enter another winter season, we must expand our current cruise arrivals to supplement our air arrivals. While we continue to see an easing of our restrictions, we are still not yet in the competitive space we need to be.
My team and I in conjunction with the Ministry of Health and the COVID-19 task force has worked tirelessly over the past few weeks to identify cruise protocols that would allow us to continue to rebuild the cruise sector safely and expand the benefits of what has always been and is anticipated to return to be a lucrative industry. These new protocols are as follows:
- 95 % of all crew onboard the vessel must be fully vaccinated as per CDC guidelines.
- All guest of age 12 and older must be fully vaccinated for Covid 19 with a World Health Organization (WHO) or U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved vaccine in order for the ship to be allowed entry to the port. Emergency contractors required for critical ship maintenance can be exempted of the vaccination requirement as well as any medical / religious exemptions granted pursuant to applicable law (i.e., US law). This requirement will be in effect till December 31st 2021.
- Individuals are considered fully vaccinated 2 weeks after a single dose in a one-dose series (only Johnson and Johnson vaccine in this instance) or last dose in a two-dose series (Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca/Oxford, Sinopharm or Sinovac.)*
- All fully vaccinated passengers age of 2 and older must submit a negative RT PCR test or Antigen test approved by the WHO 72 hours/ 3 days before embarkation of vessel at homeport at the beginning of the cruise.
- Unvaccinated passengers over the age of 2 must submit a negative RT PCR test 72 hours/ 3 days within embarkation of vessel at homeport at the beginning of the cruise.
- Unvaccinated passengers must be tested by the cruise line at the terminal on the day of embarkation at homeport before the beginning of the cruise using a RT PCR test to confirm a negative COVID-19 status.
- Self-samples, or unsupervised (not administered by approved medical professional) home test kits, and test with oral swabs, and RT PCR test with oral swabs will be considered invalid.
- Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 are not to board the vessel.
- St. Kitts and Nevis has a travel advisory in effect for passengers whose travel originated from Brazil, India and South Africa. Therefore, passengers that have been in these countries in the last 14 days will not be permitted access to St. Kitts and Nevis.
NB: Fully Vaccinated cruise passengers and accompanied unvaccinated children under 12 are only permitted to engage in vaccinated bubble excursions
We have shared all of the above protocols with our cruise lines and today I am pleased to state that we have been able to confirm the arrival of Celebrity Equinox, our first vessel to arrive into Port Zante since March 2020. The vessel is anticipated to arrive with over 1400 passengers on Tuesday 14th September 2021, a mere five days before we celebrate our 38th Independence Anniversary.
I want to take this opportunity to caution us and manage expectations. We are still in the first phase of our rebuilding efforts. While the ship will be docking at Port Zante, guests will not be permitted to integrate into society. Hence, during this first phase you will not see our passengers walking through the streets of Basseterre independently.
We are craving your indulgence, understanding and patience during this time as we seek to implement strategies to assist our stakeholders who have been closed for the past 18 months or who have been open but barely getting by. We understand the struggle of all who depend heavily on the cruise industry for their livelihood. At this time, we are seeking your full cooperation, slow and steady is the current approach as we are still in the first phase of our rebuilding strategy. We know you are anxious to get back to work but we must continue with a plan that balances safety and economics. I want you to understand that our intention is to get you back to earning so your businesses can survive, and you can provide for your families but we must do so safely. We cannot open the flood gates all at once.
We are currently in our third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is critical that we understand that for our safety and their own safety, visitors arriving to our shores on cruise vessels will explore the destination via ‘Travel Approved’ Fully Vaccinated Tours. As the Celebrity Equinox will arrive at Port Zante, Port Zante will become a bubble. We are at this time working with the COVID-19 task force, UDC, tour operators and the retail operators at Port Zante to finalize the logistics of this bubble.
In addition, all individuals interacting with cruise ship guests including SCASPA security, customs, immigration, retail operators, vendors, Taxi and tours bus operators, and attraction site employees must have completed the Travel Approved training facilitated by the St. Kitts Tourism Authority and the Ministry of Health and their partners and must be fully vaccinated.
This is a giant step for us, and we need each and everyone of you to make this call and all future call a success as we slowly rebuild the sector. When we receive Celebrity Equinox on 14th September all eyes will be on us. Other cruise lines and destinations will be monitoring the success of our call. We must do all we can to make this call a success. We have also received a request for a call on 5th October 2021. The realization of the call in October and future calls depends heavily on the success of the Celebrity Equinox’s visit on September 14th. The success of this call will be our success as a nation and is critical to our rebuilding efforts.
As we experience these small successes, we anticipate that they will propel us to expand our product and service offerings to include more vendors and operators. This is the first large ship to visit our shores and we need the help of everyone to make it a success so we can successfully move to the next phase. This has and continues to be an all of society approach. The situation with COVID will always remain fluid. However, it is our duty to do everything we can to keep our selves and our families safe while we balance health and economics.
My team and I continue to work tirelessly with our partner agencies, we have never lost hope and we are asking you to continue to work along side us as we rebuild the sector. Let us do all we can to feed our visitor’s sense of wander as they explore our destination safely. Do not take any chances that could result in irreversible breach and ultimate surge in CVOID-19 cases. But let us extend our warm Kittitian hospitality and rebuild their confidence and that of future guests in travel to our shores once again. I will now take questions from you the members of the media.