Health and Social Development Minister Marlon Penn told the House of Assembly last week that the Virgin Islands branch of the Regional Tourism and Health Programme will launch soon. (Screenshot: HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY)

Ahead of the holiday season, the Virgin Islands is preparing to join a regional programme that aims to set standards for public health management in the tourism sector across the Caribbean, according to Health and Social Development Minister Marlon Penn.

Since the VI began preparing in 2019 to join the Caribbean Public Health Agency-led initiative, 930 residents in the territory have participated in training seminars, Mr. Penn said in the House of Assembly on Nov. 15. Now, he added, the programme is nearly ready to officially launch in the VI. The Regional Tourism and Health Programme sets public health and safety guidelines, particularly for people involved in the hospitality industry, the minister explained, adding that it highlights the need for quick communication about public health threats.

Other countries

Nine other Caribbean countries have already launched their programmes, according to CARPHA.

The minister said despite limitations imposed by the pandemic, several recent training seminars were held either virtually or in person.

He added that six VI facilities and six companies earned the “Healthier, Safer Tourism Stamp of Approval,” verifying their commitment to protecting visitors’ health.

Ensuring public safety

The initiative, Mr. Penn explained, “helps to strengthen the ability of countries to prepare for and respond to public health threats that may be associated with, or originate in, the tourism sector.”

He added, “It ultimately aims to protect and enhance the health and safety of both locals and visitors, while contributing to local and regional health security, as well as the quality, reputation, and sustainability of Caribbean tourism.”

CARPHA, the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, and the Caribbean Tourism Organization are providing support for the countries implementing the programme. The guidelines focus on measures like creating an early warning system for public health issues; monitoring and managing vessels; setting food handling and hygiene standards in hospitality settings; generating an app for communicating with guests; and others.

“This is the first integrated programme of its kind, setting an international precedent for improving sustainable tourism and regional health security,” Mr. Penn said.