While resumption of leisure travel to the Dutch Caribbean is not considered feasible by authorities in the Netherlands (see related story) may be disappointing in terms of an eagerly anticipated post-coronavirus recovery, it is not entirely unexpected. As Minister of Public Health, Wellbeing and Sport Hugo de Jonge wrote to the Second Chamber of Parliament in The Hague, there are still insufficient measures in place to prevent the import of new cases and visitors can only be allowed when there is sufficient care capacity for both residents and them.
Nobody will argue those points, but the degree to which they apply does vary per each of the six islands. For example, the pavilion and ICU tent near St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) have bolstered its ability to deal with any new outbreak, God forbid.
That does not mean the country is ready to welcome guests back anytime soon, but the planning needs to start now, along with relevant stakeholders including airlines and cruise lines. Things can change quickly and the report of the Dutch Outbreak Management Team (OMT) cited by the minister was dated April 24.
The global travel industry will rebound, be it perhaps more limited in scope and somewhat different in nature. The local hospitality sector should prepare to accommodate and embrace that “new normal” with social distancing and hygiene measures.
St. Eustatius has a COVID-19 Hospitainer and Saba also received special healthcare assistance, but due to their smaller scale and therefore sparser resources the risk might be – relatively speaking – bigger for them. However, continued basic income for their people is luckily a bit better secured because they are part of the Netherlands.
For St. Maarten, getting the tourism economy going again is crucial to prevent widespread business closures and mass layoffs with all possible social consequences. That must be done responsibly and – above all – safely, but is an indispensable ingredient to the long-term wellbeing of “The Friendly Island” and its people.