A Nova Scotia travel agency says it has a way of bringing the Atlantic “bubble” to the Caribbean.
Absolute Travel, located in Halifax, wants to extend the bubble to a resort in Cuba this winter. The plan would provide a potentially COVID-free vacation for Atlantic Canadians looking to escape the winter weather for the sunny beaches of the Caribbean.
“Being in a bubble is a little bit different than Ontario and some other provinces,” said co-owner and vice-president of Absolute Travel, Elayne Pink. “We were looking for what could we do to work within the boundaries we have to support those people. And that’s how the idea started.”
The bubble is composed of the four Atlantic provinces — Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador — in which residents are free to travel without having to self-isolate when they cross borders. The travel package would feature a direct flight taking only Canadians from the Atlantic provinces to a Cuban resort where they would be the only occupants.
Pink says they plan on announcing the details of the trip and opening it up to the public sometime in the next week, with travel beginning in February.
The response to the agency’s plan was instantaneous.
“We’ve been overwhelmed with phone calls,” Pink said. “We’ve had, I’m going to say up to 3,000 people in touch with us via social media and whatnot looking to go on this package.”
Word of the package actually got out ahead of plan during a conversation with a local radio station.
“It went viral,” Pink said. “People caught on very quickly. Once it got out, it just kept running and it just blew up our social media pages like crazy.”
The agency wants to work with an airline and a Cuban resort to create a safe and exclusive means of travel, where potential COVID-19 exposure would be limited. Further deals and resorts at other countries, like the Dominican Republic, could follow, but for the time being Pink is focused on their first package.
For seven days at a time, Atlantic Canadians will be able to vacation at a resort where all the staff have been tested and self-isolated before guests arrive, though there will be no off-resort activities. The goal is to recreate the conditions, safety and exclusivity of the Atlantic bubble in the Caribbean.
“All the things we go through here in Atlantic Canada in our bubble is exactly what we’re going to be doing there,” Pink said.
In a conversation with HalifaxToday , Pink was optimistic about appealing to Dr. Robert Strang, the chief medical officer for Nova Scotia, about lifting the mandatory 14-day self-isolation period upon returning to the Atlantic provinces from outside the bubble.
When contacted by the National Post , Dr. Strang referred all inquiries on the matter to the federal government, stating that it falls under their jurisdiction. According to current emergency protocol set out by the Government of Canada, any traveller returning to Canada must quarantine for 14 days, even if they aren’t displaying any symptoms.
The 14-day self-isolation period remains secondary compared to finding a way for Atlantic Canadians to travel together and travel safely, Pink said.
“Atlantic Canadians are very tight knit. People are just happy that we’re trying very hard to get this to work the way we want it to. And so far it’s coming together quite perfectly.”
Most recently, the agency was able to put in place a COVID-19 medical coverage plan to protect against the possibility of catching the virus.
“If, God forbid, somebody did take ill at the destination, there is a policy now that is in place that covers that,” said Pink.
While the agency considered a number of options, Cuba remains their best bet. Pink said they are focusing on areas of the country with the least cases of COVID-19.
Many Cuban provinces have seen no new cases in months, and restrictions have just been relaxed in anticipation of re-opening their economy for tourist season — with the exception of Havana, reports CTV News . The island of more than 11 million people has reported some 6,000 coronavirus cases and more than 120 deaths from COVID-19 since March.
While Cuban health authorities are watching for further outbreaks, they have said that they won’t re-impose the blanket shutdowns used shortly after the start of the pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed an immense strain on the travel industry, and this package represents a step forward and a means of creating something that Atlantic Canadians were craving, Pink said.
“Many people have said that they need something to look forward to because their mental health was suffering,” Pink said. “That was the next thing that made us think, ‘Okay what can we do to move forward? We’ve been stuck in this bubble for a long time and we don’t see a light at the end of that tunnel.’”
National Post, with files from the Canadian Press