Hotels and resorts across Mexico and the Caribbean have borne the brunt of the CDC’s recent decision to require Covid-19 tests for all U.S.-bound flyers, with hospitality operators reliant on U.S. tourism moving quickly to ensure guests have access to convenient and reliable on-site testing.
According to Robert Sands, president of the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association and a Baha Mar senior executive, the new mandate has made testing “perhaps the single most important amenity at a hotel, as it relates to travel.”
But while many larger and well-established properties have successfully rolled out on-site testing over the past week, broader efforts to make testing more accessible and cost-effective, as well as guarantee fast results, have hardly been without challenges.
In a statement, Vanessa Ledesma, acting CEO and director general of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, called testing requirements for entry back into the U.S., as well as Canada and the U.K., “a tremendous challenge for most of the small countries and jurisdictions in the Caribbean,” citing insufficient testing equipment, lab facilities and manpower in some destinations.
Likewise, Felicia Knaul, a public health expert and the director of the University of Miami Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas, expressed some skepticism around the quick scaling of testing capabilities in markets like Mexico, “where the lack of testing, in general, has been appalling.”
Under the CDC’s new mandate, travelers must show proof of a negative Covid-19 antigen or PCR test taken with 72 hours in order to board a flight to the U.S., effective Jan. 26. In the U.K., a similar requirement went into effect earlier this month, while in Canada, proof of a negative PCR test prior to boarding has been mandatory since Jan. 7.
“When we saw Canada announce their policy, we knew the U.S. could follow,” said Paul Gielen, general manager of the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino. “The U.S. is our bread and butter, so we began calling around to [coordinate on-site testing] early. Our focus was making sure testing wasn’t too expensive, and the next concern was, how do you make it easy, so people don’t lose half their vacation getting tested?”
In partnership with local lab MedCare Aruba, the Renaissance Aruba was able to get its on-property testing site — which it claims is the first resort testing facility on the island — up and running in just a few days. Antigen tests are available for $50 each, with PCR tests — which are generally considered the gold standard for Covid-19 testing but require a longer turnaround — offered at $125 each.
The property has also launched a package for travel through April 4, offering complimentary antigen testing for up to two people per room, for stays of four nights or longer.
Though the tests themselves aren’t in short supply in Aruba, Gielen did point out that the number of labs on the island able to perform them is relatively small, with only three in operation. While he predicted some larger resorts would forge similar partnerships and be able to bring testing in-house, the amenity isn’t likely to be ubiquitous anytime soon.
“Obviously, they have the ability to come in and work with us, but by the time the third or fourth resort reaches out to them, it may not be so easy,” said Gielen.
In the Bahamas, testing capacity has been relatively robust, due in part to a requirement, predating the U.S. mandate, that travelers staying in the country longer than five days take an antigen test. (Some resorts, including the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar, even require their own testing prior to check-in, on top of the country’s existing protocols.)
Sands characterized the Bahamas’ existing testing strategy as “very proactive,” but even so, he acknowledged that for Bahamian properties in more remote locations, accessible testing for travelers may be more difficult.
“I don’t think we have to be concerned about Providence or Grand Bahama and some of the other tourist-heavy islands, but there’s still work to be done to instill that same level of confidence on some of the other Family Islands,” Sands said.
For AMResorts, which has properties throughout Mexico, Jamaica, Curacao, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Panama and Spain, dealing with each destination’s disparate testing regulations has at times proven complicated.
While AMResorts has been able to roll out free antigen testing across the vast majority of its portfolio, antigen tests have yet to become available for use in Costa Rica or St. Martin. Consequently, the company’s resorts in those markets instead work to facilitate off-site PCR testing for an additional cost.
“We have a strong relationship with the hospitals there, so we can prioritize the processing. Our scale helps a lot,” said Gonzalo del Peon Suarez, group president for AMResorts Americas and global commercial. “Hopefully, we’ll see those countries accepting the antigen test soon, because it is challenging.”
Meanwhile, the University of Miami’s Knaul hopes that the new testing requirement will have some positive impact on destinations like Mexico, where tourism demand has remained relatively steady, even as Covid-19 cases continue to surge.
“I would love to see a situation where this results in more reasonably-priced testing for [local residents] who need it,” said Knaul. “A hotel could say to a tourist, you pay for a test, and your test will pay for five more tests for people who can’t afford them. It’s good to require tests to enter a country or get on a plane, as long as it doesn’t come at the expense of the local population.”