Unfinished business

Unfinished business

Aruba received some 4,000 passengers on the first three days it reopened to travel from the US. Despite mandating negative COVID-19 preboarding test results and screening on arrival, permitting visitors especially living in high-infection-rate states is obviously not without risk.

Nevertheless, both Curaçao and Bonaire, which are not letting Americans back in for now, dropped earlier plans to again close their airspace to sister island Aruba for this reason. Dutch Caribbean epidemiologist Izzy Gerstenbluth said precautions taken there to prevent importing a new coronavirus outbreak seemed sufficient.

That is good news for St. Maarten and Winair, also in relation to St. Eustatius and Saba. The former restored regular air traffic from St. Maarten with certain restrictions, while the latter has done so for only essential and not leisure incoming travel, but is at least allowing transfers at Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA).

Hopefully, this positive trend will not change if St. Maarten readmits US guests as currently planned per August 1 partly by necessity. “The Friendly Island” to a large extent depends on North American vacationers to drive its tourism economy, as is the case with Aruba.

Developments there in the coming days and weeks should serve as an important example of what can happen locally. People should not expect too much immediately, because even with the busy first weekend Aruba’s hotel association foresees an average room occupancy rate of just 9 per cent in July.

The country’s government therefore knows it cannot yet do without more liquidity assistance from the Netherlands, among other things for wage subsidies to prevent widespread business closures and mass layoffs. Talks are already ongoing about an advance on the third tranche of soft loans, even though there is no agreement on all new conditions for such.

However, Curaçao and St. Maarten must still comply with requirements for part of the second tranche regarding their payroll support and other financial aid programmes by July 15. So, while a lot of attention is being paid to the controversial Caribbean Reform Entity going forward, that piece of “unfinished business” is what should have priority at this moment.