The Prime Minister's announcement of the reopening of the borders in four to six weeks has given Tobago a reason to smile.
The island's economy – heavily dependent on tourism – has been crippled for the past year owing to the restrictions to combat the virus.
Secretary of Tourism Ancil Dennis on Monday said plans are under way to get the industry ready to accept international visitors.First on the agenda, he said, is the vaccination of workers in the tourism industry.
"We will be rolling out our vaccines in such a way where we will be prioritising certain sectors and the tourism sector is definitely to be prioritised. By next week we'll make that call, as we get more vaccines coming in we will be targeting tourism sector workers."
He described Dr Rowley's comments as " promising news" which "signals light at the end of the tunnel, and I'm quite happy and looking forward to the future."
Dennis said his division has used the one-year down time to enhance the island's tourism offerings.
"Yes, so far we have been able to improve some aspects of the tourism product. Through our grant support programme we were able to have 124 properties coming on board to upgrade their facility. Most of those would have been small hotels and guesthouses.
"In addition, later this month, we should be launching our customer service training programme, and that is critical."
He said discussions are also under way with airlines for services to resume when borders are reopened.
Dennis added, "We're also in the process of looking at new sites and attractions. We're hoping those could be rolled out for the winter season. Once things go according to plan and we''re able to vaccinate a high percentage of the population and allow travel from our source markets, at that time we'll be in a better place in terms of those sites.
"For example, we are almost complete with the Buccoo boardwalk. We're also looking at a museum to replace the now fallen silk cotton tree in Les Coteaux.
"We're also targeting places like Little Rockly Bay in Lambeau, Charloteville beach front, and that stretch from the I Love Tobago sign to Singh's Hardware on Old Milford Road, Scarborough – those areas would be improved into green, tourism-friendly spaces."
He said the THA post-covid19 recovery committee report is being used to help chart the way forward.
"Some recommendations were made that we've already implemented. There are some that will assist us as we prepare to reopen our borders.
"We continue to use those recommendations as we attempt to move out this pandemic phase. The report informs a lot of what we"re doing at this point in time."
Dennis said he planned to form a committee within the next month with experts from the tourism sector, health division, and other stakeholders "to look at plans and approaches to prepare us to effectively open our tourism sector.
"We need to start preparing our logistics, health protocols, tourism protocols, to ensure we have a smooth, safe and successful transition from closed to open borders and visitors coming to the island."
Dennis acknowledged that vaccine hesitancy remains an issue, but encouraged Tobagonians to read and educate themselves.
"There is still some concerns among the Tobago population.
"However, as a result of the recent increase in deaths, I've seen a lot more persons coming forward and demonstrating a willingness to be vaccinated.
"Vaccination is a key weapon in the fight against this virus. Yes, it is a new virus, but vaccines are not new.
"Vaccines will continue to be around as we continue to battle viruses and diseases. Trust the science, read, benefit form factual info, get a clear understanding of how vaccines work."