Opening Up: Is Saint Lucia A Coronavirus Canary?

Predictably, Allen Chastanet’s May 17th announcement that Saint Lucia’s borders would begin opening on June 4th raised more questions than it answered, while streaming online to a viewership ranging from the genuinely interested to the authentically dunderheaded. More than a month later, the reality continues to frustrate tourism stakeholders at every turn, while thousands prepare for the worst tourism off-season in Saint Lucian history.

As they got wind of an early June opening, to paraphrase my favourite – slashingly erudite – local social media commentator, people got their kalson in a twist about the imminent potential for a new wave of Covid-19 to swoop down on the island and attack the local population like something out of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’.

We’ll fight it on the beaches…

Reading the comments on any political posting by the GOSL is a soul-destroying pastime, which I don’t recommend unless you want to blush at unadulterated extremes of stupidity, sectarianism, sycophancy, subjectivity and literal blind faith that populate the Looshan Facebook experience. It’s tempting to ignore it and feel a bit superior moving on to a more uplifting post of dancing babies or someone’s latest home-gardening achievements.

But increasingly in life, I’ve discovered it’s important to know “how the other half think”, especially when that opinion is diametrically opposed to one’s own. Switching channels to avoid watching the hopelessly hapless Hydroxymoron-in-Chief [thanks, Jimmy Kimmel] helps keep the blood pressure from rising, but it doesn’t help you understand just how mind-blowingly huge their problem is, up where the buffalo roam and testing is as rare as the California Condor.

Keeping a low profile from the initial OMG-we-all-gonna-die-lord-put-a-hand tsunami of Looshan reaction, I was glad to see the next set of changes soon posted on the GOSL website, so that at least people could read for themselves what was being proposed and start asking the increasingly specific questions proliferating from every sector of commerce and society. If there’s another thing I’ve learnt through the sociological study of coronavirus response, it’s that it affects people so subjectively that I’m constantly floored by questions that make me go “ooooh! Never thought of that!”.

Tourism, however, is the only driver of substance in our economy, and in the Caribbean, Saint Lucia is just one of dozens of countries that are in precisely the same predicament, albeit with individual, localised realities – and forward-thinking adminstrators – in play. Mr. Chastanet’s bold moves to get the border-opening ball rolling are still undoubtedly controversial, but were they well-thought through? Is our government truly balancing the risk between releasing the grip of national lockdown to allow for the reignition of the economy, and safeguarding a tiny, highly vulnerable population to a more threatening public health scenario?

A sword of Damocles for our time.

Stephen Covey would ask “did they begin with the end in mind?”

One of ‘The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People’

Given the global focus on a path to the ‘new-travel-normal’, Saint Lucia’s ballsy move to open borders early gained immediate traction in the media, despite seasoned industry practitioners having serious concerns about the operational practicalities needed to achieve the evolving requirements. Despite the fact that the PM clearly stated that tourists would NOT be pouring through our ports in Covid-contaminated hordes, some [who have not read a word of those statutes] continue to whine why-what-when-who-woe-is-we. Conspiracy theories abound as to just whose guests will be knocking our doors and how they’ll get here, but despite the knee-jerk temptation to weigh-in on the wailing, such musings do not bring real value to the discussion.

Real value is bringing a pragmatic approach to figuring out where you stand in the maze of new protocols, rules and regulations. Business owners with good instincts and an eye for projecting have been strategising since day one, and some are now forging a new path online or in another socially-distanced format.

Lucky for them, because now they have to write their own protocol and get it stamped by the ministry and have a site inspection and get approval before starting to trade with the public again. For those who source their information from covidiot conspirators, shame on you, and don’t cry to me if you end up with a fat fine.

Hurricane-proof Marigot Bay

But of all the economic opportunities the Saint Lucia Government could miss, bringing back the yachties to our marinas and bays is the one that still has me spitting filthy epithets in the privacy of my self-imposed semi-lockdown. Joined-up thinking had my head full of the potential for swiftly unlocking the sea ports of entry so that our liveaboard friends would have a safe place to head to for the next six months of Atlantic storm season. It’s such a screamingly obvious strategy and I’m not alone in believing wholeheartedly that yachting should have been better managed by government in a pandemic than Saint Lucia has done.

Grenada opened to yachts on May 25, and have signed up 700 boats to a scenic floating quarantine programme through the hurricane season. We, despite having one of the Caribbean’s safest hurricane holes and the largest marina in the area, remain closed to boats. [19/06]

It continues to baffle all concerned, and implies a deep lack of knowledge about the nature and needs of the marine industries sector by the politicians and government practitioners in charge. There just aren’t enough cons to outweigh the pros, and I’m not the only one with that opinion. That’s what happens when you get obsessed with big shiny hotel projects and dreamy videos telling the world of our ‘safe harbour’.

Sorry kids, no swimming allowed!

As for deeply illogical suggestions made by disconnected tourismocrats yesterday that after paying through the nose to fly here and stay in a hotel, visitors will be happy to get on a pleasure boat, footle up and down the coastline despite being prohibited from swimming in the sea. What a doozy!

Understand, guests can swim in the sea on their [private] resort beach, but no cannonballs into the blue will be allowed. Guests can choose to wrinkle their flesh by paddling in the petri dish resort pool for twelve hours a day if they so desire, but they will not be allowed to jump off the deck of a boat moored in the island’s most famous snorkelling bay.

If this makes sense to anyone, please give them my number so they can explain it to me.

Every seasoned marine operator I’ve bumped into tells a similar story. The unanimous verdict is that we’ve missed a massive opportunity by keeping our sea ports closed, and that for now, the pleasure boating protocols being suggested by government will shoot the ‘new-normal’ industry in the foot early on.

So were all those live-streamed opening interviews and promises to welcome the first AA flight on June 7 a PR game of smoke and mirrors? Our brand is worth more than that.

Make all the snazzy videos you like, but those who know, know we’re not ready to open this month.

Saint Lucia is waiting for you…