Several Caribbean destinations are just now reopening their borders to international travelers, but Aruba has been engaged in the process for one month, having opened its borders on July 10.
In fact, as of July 28, the southern Caribbean island has welcomed more than 11,000 international visitors. Since that time, tourists account for less than one percent of the island’s confirmed COVID cases, which Aruba Tourism Authority (ATA) officials attribute to direct flights from major airports and an “easy” airport-testing process.
The Dutch Caribbean nation also implemented aggressive measures to contain COVID-19 following the pandemic’s outbreak and adheres to World Health Organization (WHO) COVID travel guidelines and protocols, including temperature checks, social distance markers, mandatory PPE training for all border staff and the presence of on-site medical professionals at border facilities.
ATA officials say Aruba’s Health and Happiness Code and its rigorous testing policy are instrumental in maximizing traveler and resident safety. We spoke recently with Ronella Tjin Asjoe-Croes, CEO of Aruba Tourism Authority, to discuss the new measures and Aruba’s decision to reopen its borders.
TravelPulse (TP): What factors allowed Aruba to open its shores to the U.S. and other international visitors ahead of other Caribbean destinations?
Ronella Tjin Asjoe-Croes (RTAC): “We are thrilled to be one of the few countries to reopen our borders to American travelers. The decision to reopen was made possible through a collaborative effort between the Government of Aruba, Department of Public Health and all our other stakeholders. We also took into consideration the ongoing guidance from WHO, The Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States.
“Together, we’re confident we can continue to create an environment that is safe and welcoming to our guests. We ensured the highest safety standards and procedures were in place before welcoming visitors and implemented a Health and Happiness Code, a stringent cleaning and hygiene certification program.”
TP: What is the process for air arrivals into Aruba (specifically, pre-arrival health and/or testing certification? Please briefly describe the process.
RTAC: “We wanted to streamline the travel process for tourists and created a video that details the entire customer journey, so visitors know what to expect from us every step along the way.
“A complete list of travel requirements is available on Aruba.com. The government strongly encourages visitors to show documentation indicating negative PCR test results prior to travel to Aruba, and we offer testing at the airport as well. Those who test in Aruba will need to quarantine up to 24 hours while awaiting results. After having re-opened for tourism, the average test results turn-around time has been between 6 to 8 hours.
“All travelers not showing documentation indicating a negative PCR test result prior to travel to Aruba will receive a PCR test at the airport when arriving. If a traveler unfortunately tests positive, they will be placed in isolation until they test negative. The government of Aruba mandates that all visitors are properly insured. Aruba Visitors Insurance is a mandatory [policy] that helps protect visitors against incurred medical and non-medical expenses if testing positive for COVID-19 during their stay in Aruba.”
TP: What is the current state of COVID-19 infection (if any) in Oranjestad and across Aruba?
RTAC: “Aruba continues to implement an aggressive testing policy and COVID cases amongst tourists remain extremely low. There have been a limited number of positive cases amongst tourists, which have been caught quickly through our protocols. Aruba continues to be one of the [countries] least impacted by COVID in the Caribbean.”
TP: What strategies has Aruba’s government employed locally to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic?
RTAC: “Our rapid response requires that any tourist that has tested positive be safely isolated until recovered. The measures the island is taking to reduce crowding and follow social distancing protocols remain in place, such as tables at restaurants and bars being 1.5 meters apart and plexiglass barriers at stores and restaurants to avoid close contact.
“Other factors the Government of Aruba implemented include an aggressive response to identifying and managing potential cases of COVID-19 was impactful and reduced the effect on Aruba. As conditions improved, restrictions on the island were carefully rolled back without significant concerns and continue to be revisited on an ongoing basis. New health and safety protocols have been implemented island-wide, with a heavy emphasis on tourism and hospitality businesses to ensure visitors feel safe.”
TP: How is your office and Aruba’s government responding to the decline in tourism associated with the pandemic?
RTAC: “As one of the most tourism dependent countries in the world, the impact of COVID has been a massive challenge. We’ve had to adjust our tourism projections accordingly, just like every other tourism destination.”
TP: What are your expectations regarding a return to significant tourism activity in Aruba during the rest of 2020?
RTAC: “Beach destinations rank high on travelers’ wish lists and we’ve seen a strong desire for people to travel to Aruba. We have an attractive destination and we are located below the hurricane belt, meaning weather is one less thing to worry about. Many of our hotel properties offer flexible booking policies which also offers assurances for travelers who want to plan their trip.
“Aruba’s proximity to the U.S. also helps make us a desirable destination, and we are hopeful that we will see a substantial number of visitors in the near-term, and confident that we can provide a safe and welcoming environment for our guests. We hope to recover by 30-40% by the end of 2020.
“With that said, we have some controls in place in terms of how quickly we increase our capacity for travelers. For example, we have coordinated with partners to limit the number of departure cities and flights from certain markets immediately following the reopening, to control capacity and increase it over time. These types of approaches allow Aruba to quickly make minor modifications (more or less limiting) based on the circumstances.”
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