A detailed report outlining key lessons from Pacific Tourism borders reopening was released and is available to the public. (download free at the end of this article)
A safe and successful border reopening depends on coordination across the ministries and agencies responsible for tourism, health, finance, foreign affairs, transport, aviation, airports, ports, commerce/business, police, community affairs, customs, immigration, and crown law.
Industry participation in reopening planning and implementation, from as early as possible and regularly, supports the destination reopening in a safe, timely, and “market-ready” manner. Insufficient public-private coordination can result in impractical health and safety plans and protocols that delay reopening and compromise the local population’s and visitors’ safety. It can also result in an unprepared tourism supply, which undermines the destination’s reputation and quality.
Reopening planning and coordination mechanisms require consideration of several factors, including the size of an economy, the prevailing structure of government ministries/portfolios, existing mechanisms for crisis response and tourism sector coordination, the prevailing COVID-19 situation, and other government priorities. Working with or adapting existing structures with a tailored term of reference appears the most effective approach.
Cook Islands established a Border Easement Taskforce (BET), chaired by the deputy prime minister and including representatives from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, Health, Tourism, and Finance and Economic Management, as well as the Crown Law Office.
A Private Sector Taskforce was established with government support to provide information and advice to the BET, which presented recommendations to the cabinet.
Fiji developed a cascading structure that ensured a whole-of-government approach to reopening borders and enabled public-private planning and coordination.
Stakeholders reported that this approach, summarized below, has been effective:
An Incident Management Team—the initial cross-government group established during the first COVID-19 wave (March 2020) to make key decisions related to the crisis (e.g., health, planning, finance, logistics, and donor coordination).
A COVID-19 Risk Mitigation Taskforce was formed under a cabinet mandate to make decisions related to the economy, including reopening businesses and international borders and bilateral discussions.
It comprises the permanent secretaries for the Ministry of Economy, the Ministry of Health and Medical Services, and the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Tourism, and Transport (MCTTT).
A Tourism Recovery Team—a public-private mechanism adapted from the previous disaster-focused Tourism Response Team.
It is chaired by the permanent secretary for MCTTT, and members include the permanent secretary for Health, Tourism Fiji, Fiji Hotels and Tourism Association, Fiji Airways, Fiji Airports Limited, Society of Fiji Travel Associates, Fiji National Provident Fund, Reserve Bank of Fiji, and (later) the Duavata Collective (to represent smaller operators). It also has occasional observers.
A Communications Working Group was established after reopening to address urgent industry communication needs, commonly via online channels because of fast-moving issues. Comprises the MCTTT, Fiji Hotels and Tourism Association, Tourism Fiji, Border Health Protection Unit, Fiji Centre for Disease Control, Fiji Airways, and Tourism Fiji.
Vanuatu was active early in establishing a whole-of-government, public-private coordination mechanism for tourism-specific crisis management via the Tourism Crisis Response and Recovery Advisory Committee.
The advisory committee was comprised of five team leads the Department of Tourism, Vanuatu Tourism Office (VTO), Vanuatu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI), and Airports Vanuatu Limited (AVL), and Chief and Civil Society.
This was subsequently supported by the Tamtam Travel Bubble Taskforce and included high-level representatives from the Prime Minister’s Office, Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Tourism, VTO, Department of Public Health, Air Vanuatu, AVL, VCCI, and tourism industry associations.
The Tamtam Travel Bubble Taskforce’s role is to collect information, enable collaboration, and provide policy advice on tourism reopening, with decisions based on advice from the Department of Public Health and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Kiribati established a high-level COVID-19 Taskforce, which included the minister for tourism, for all key decisions related to the crisis. For tourism-specific reopening concerns, the Tourism Authority of Kiribati set up a Tourism Restart Working Group comprising representatives from the private sector, the government, WHO, Red Cross, and training institutions.
Countries should adopt an integrated approach to reopening borders to tourism, including a cross-agency plan that identifies goals, priorities, responsibilities, and timelines while allowing for flexibility.
Countries that prepared border reopening plans early found that the changing nature of COVID-19 nullified some aspects of planning, leading stakeholders to question the value of overly detailed planning documents. Conversely, some countries without documented reopening plans worry they are not equipped to reopen safely.
An integrated plan that identifies agreed goals, priority activities, roles and responsibilities, anticipated timelines, and budget requirements are critical.
Reopening plans should be developed collaboratively by key public and private sector stakeholders. In the case of government ministries/agencies, this includes obtaining input from and agreeing on accountabilities for all those whose functions touch on tourism.
The preparation of a reopening plan should consider COVID-19 waves/strains globally and regionally, predictions and advice by health authorities; the latest global and regional international travel forecasts and trends; local tourism supply readiness, and local health service capacity. By modeling scenarios on these variables,
The Cook Islands did not maintain a specific detailed reopening plan document because conditions kept changing. However, its Border Easement Taskforce (BET) uses meeting minutes and action items to agree on the next steps and monitor progress. The BET prepares information papers for cabinet decisions related to reopening plans and monitors actions accordingly.
Fiji’s COVID-19 Risk Mitigation Taskforce prepared a general plan for tourism recovery early on, aligning the plan with the three recovery phases set out in the national COVID-Safe Economic Recovery Framework. The plan had goals, activities, and accountabilities, which changed as conditions evolved.
SCROLL DOWN for the Video and download the full report.