By Ian Ho-A-Shu and Natalie Wegener Carmona
While not on a scale to be classified as pandemics, Salmonella and Norovirus outbreaks from 2000 to 2014 across various popular Caribbean tourist destinations have raised alarms in a region which provides 13% of employment to its population through tourism and travel related activities, creating 2.23M jobs and contributing to 14.6% of the total GDP. While relatively small in scale, sometimes resulting in week long hotel closures and infections for 60 guests, incidences like these can cause devastating reputational damage for a region heavily reliant on the tourism industry.
As we head into the winter months, the Caribbean is in full marketing mode, promoting warm promises of a carefree tourist experience. Scare stories of a single case of Salmonella or small local outbreaks of Norovirus often become hyped by international media as significant threats to health security in the Caribbean, reducing the number of travelers willing to spend their limited time off in the region.
Recognizing that the health of Caribbean economies is closely related to the health of its tourism industry, leaders in the Caribbean tourism industry all agree that enhancing sustainable tourism in the Caribbean is essential for its economic development. In keeping with its public health mandate, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), in collaboration with the Caribbean Tourism Organization and funding from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), is currently executing a three (3) year pilot project in The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. The project aims to develop: (i) a regional tourism health information, surveillance and monitoring and response system (THMRS); (ii) a set of credible Caribbean–wide Health, Safety and Environmental (HSE) tourism standards with accompanying certification schemes; and (iii) a training program to build capacity in food and environmental safety.
Financed by the IDB, this Regional Tourism Health Information, Monitoring and Response Systems and Standards to Enhance Sustainable Tourism project was officially launched by CARPHA in Trinidad and Tobago in September 2016 and in Barbados in November 2016. The Director of the project is the energetic Dr Lisa Indar of CARPHA who sees the project “assisting the tourism industry in the participating countries, including hotels, guest houses and cruise ships to take proper measures to minimize the occurrence of disease outbreaks and if there is an outbreak, to be better prepared to quickly address and contain it.” Once the pilot stage of the project is completed, “CARPHA intends to roll out the project across the Caribbean,” says Dr. Indar, who received global recognition for the project by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) at the World Tourism Market (WTM) meeting in November 2016.
So for the holiday-makers looking to avoid the harshness of unforgiving winters, look no further than the Caribbean for a Sand, Surf, Sun-drenched and Salmonella-free vacation.
 Norovirus is a very contagious virus that can infect anyone. You can get it from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces. The virus causes your stomach or intestines or both to get inflamed. This leads you to have stomach pain, nausea, and diarrhea and to throw up. Center for Disease Control.
 According to World Travel & Tourism Council Economic Impact Report, 2015 Caribbean. http://www.wttc.org/-/media/files/reports/economic%20impact%20research/regional%202015/caribbean2015.pdf
 Caribbean Tourism Strategic Plan and the Nassau Declaration on Tourism (2014)
Photos by: Aaron Burden and Veronica Dassatti