Cartagena, Colombia, Feb 1 (EFE).- An easing of Colombia’s Covid-19 restrictions on cruise ship passengers that took effect on Tuesday was welcome news for hard-hit tour operators, tour guides and local retailers.
Cruise passengers who had wanted to visit that colonial port city previously had to show a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours before boarding their ship.
Many cruise lines viewed that requirement as excessively stringent and responded by not making port calls in Cartagena. And the situation for the local tourism industry worsened further after a ship with several Covid-positive passengers was unable to disembark last December.
As of Tuesday, cruise passengers now may disembark by showing proof of a negative antigen test taken 48 hours before their arrival in Cartagena along with proof of full vaccination status, Health Minister Fernando Ruiz announced.
The director of the DADIS Health Department Administrative District in Cartagena, Johana Bueno, told Efe that the negative Covid-19 test requirement “is a preventive measure whose goal is to cut the virus’ chain of transmission, especially considering the appearance of new variants.”
The executive president of the Cartagena de Indias Tourism Corporation, Natalia Bohorquez, told Efe for her part that biosafety corridors established last year in the city’s historical center remain in place to ensure the safety of both cruise ship passengers and local residents.
Tour guide Rosmy Vergara told Efe that the change in the health protocol has revived the hopes of all those whose work and livelihoods depend on tourism.
“Many of us had to turn to teaching languages to earn money to support our families,” she said of the sharp drop in cruise traffic. “Under normal conditions, a guide could do one or two tours a day, but after the (onset of the) pandemic a tour guide may work once or twice a month.”
Prior to the health emergency, Cartagena received around 225 cruise ships per season. In 2018-2019, 616,429 cruise ship passengers arrived in the city and had an economic impact valued at $66.2 million, according to Business Research and Economic Advisors estimates.
Cruise travel to Colombia finally resumed on Aug. 24, 2021, after a 17-month hiatus, with a projection for 122 cruise-ship arrivals and 322,202 visitors in the 2021-2022 season.
But on Dec. 22 health authorities denied permission for passengers to disembark from the Seven Seas Mariner cruise ship after its captain had informed them that seven people on board had tested positive for Covid-19.
Numerous cruise lines then opted over the next 40 days not to make port calls in the city and the flow of passengers dried up even more drastically.
Since late December, there has been a 70 percent reduction in the volume of work in the tourism sector, business leader Walter Garcia said, adding that in the case of handicrafts and gift shops the impact was even greater because cruise passengers account for between 80 percent and 85 percent of their business.
Three cruise ships arrived at the start of this new travel phase on Tuesday: Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Bliss, Holland America Line’s MS Eurodam and Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Seven Seas Explorer. EFE