Wellness Tourism: Balancing Safety Protocols and Guest Expectations Amid the Impact of COVID-19

Wellness Tourism: Balancing Safety Protocols and Guest Expectations Amid the Impact of COVID-19

ATLANTA – Wellness has emerged as a key focus for visitors in readjusting to the “new normal” as they resume travel to the Caribbean.

As part of a National Wellness Month campaign throughout the month of August, Travel Agents Selling the Caribbean (TASC) hosted a webinar to explore the vast potential of wellness tourism.

TASC assembled a group of Caribbean wellness enthusiasts, as part of the group’s mission of strengthening the region’s position in the global tourism market. The discussion themed “Health is the New Wealth” centered on how the Caribbean wellness product can be repackaged as a holistic experience that addresses safety protocols, while meeting customer expectations.

The featured panelists were:

  • Stephanie Rest, Caribbean Wellness and Education
  • Karen Birch-Ebanks – Caribbean Wellness Advocate
  • Carmen Portela, Cofounder Live Bana
  • Paulette Clarke – Group Spa Operations Manager, Sandals International
  • David Bowen – Yoga Wellness Director, Grace Bay Club
  • Aidan McCauley – Sugar Ridge Resort/ Hike Caribbean/ Yoga Antigua
  • Dr.Samantha Semmalar Mahalingam, Ojas Spa & Wellness
  • Kallis St. Jules – Spa Manager, La Mer Spa, Bay Gardens Beach Resort

Participants in this webinar were taken on a virtual journey to explore how some of the wellness attractions throughout the Caribbean have been impacted by COVID-19.

Following a brief introduction by the moderator, Derede Whitlock of DSW Consulting Media, panelists weighed in on how their businesses have been impacted by health and safety protocols.

They provided tips for selling wellness packages, identified a number of industry best practices that have been adopted to protect customers and staff, as well as product modifications that have been made.

Noting the relatively low rate of COVID-19 infection throughout the Caribbean, there was general consensus that leaders throughout the region had taken the right steps in safeguarding lives and livelihoods.

Wellness tourism throughout the region remains in high demand and has the potential to transform many aspects of the Caribbean tourism product.  Although the pandemic has shaken up every aspect of the tourism industry, there are many instances where it has inspired the adoption of healthy behaviors and growth opportunities to maintain greater human connections and interactions while meeting physical distancing requirements.

Panelists highlighted a myriad of wellness offerings that focus on nutrition, movement, relaxation and rejuvenation. Although these wellness experiences have been modified to meet health and safety standards, visitors return with a renewed source of energy and vitality.

“If God created a perfect place and said this is wellness, that place would be the Caribbean. Many visitors want to create their own sanctuary to unwind and take some “time-out.”  They travel to heal as a means of relieving stress, while tapping into the range of unique selling points that the region has to offer.  There is no need to reinvent the wheel. What we need is product development, because we have all of the basic ingredients right here in the Caribbean,” said Stephanie Rest, a self-described community organizer on behalf of Caribbean wellness.

Restrictions on fitness centers and adventure tours have put enormous pressure on visitors in maintaining their physical and mental wellbeing while on vacation.

Hiking and outdoor yoga have emerged as two experiences that allow guests to spend more time enjoying nature. These activities help to calm their minds and uplift their spirits and appear to be in greater demand during the pandemic.


“Hiking is a great tool during COVID as therapy for the mind, body and soul. When visitors come to visit, it is supposed to be a once in a lifetime experience and we have to find new attractions to keep them engaged,“ said Aidan McCauley, owner of Sugar Ridge a wellness Resort in Antigua. He also owns Hike Caribbean and Yoga Antigua. McCauley believes that hiking will continue to grow post COVID-19 and he encourages Caribbean governments to develop hiking trails with proper signage and maintenance crews. He referenced a new 26-mile island trail that is currently being developed in Antigua and Barbuda.

Carmen Ortela of Bana, who has dedicated most her career to the promotion of sustainable living, also noted increased interest in hiking and the outdoors. As an advocate for self care, she was inspired to create Local Guest: a social enterprise that co-creates and promotes authentic tourism experiences.  By working hand in hand with local communities and entrepreneurs she hopes to build a new tourism ecosystem based on sustainable development practices.

She referenced the need for the development of a modern trail system in her hometown of Puerto Rico to showcase natural resources such as the beaches, mountains, flora, fauna and other healing properties that the destination has to offer.

Ortela also indicated that forest therapy is being developed to capitalize on how the unique sights and sounds in the rainforest can improve the well-being of visitors and locals.


Yoga guru, David Bowen noted a growing interest in yoga throughout the Caribbean.  “By practicing yoga, we promote values that inspire a peaceful, environmental stewardship for the betterment of society and the earth. There should be more opportunities for staff and guests to experience wellness together by creating a healthy community.  It’s about the sea, sand and people,” said Bowen. He called for the development of a regional training institute to train more yoga instructors. He believes that current technology can also be leveraged to provide more yoga training and personalized services.

Karen Birch-Ebanks also shared similar sentiments about the need for employee wellness programs to empower staff in delivering the highest levels of hospitality. She said, “We can always give our best when our cup runneth over and we need to provide the training and mental health support to ensure that employees understand the key elements of wellness to meet guest expectations.”

The wellness advocate also addressed the issue of health and safety protocols.  She added, “Not only do we have to formalize protocols that are already being used throughout our wellness facilities, they must now be delivered in a transparent way, as part of the front office operations and not the back office.”

Paulette Clarke, Group Operations Spa Manager at Sandals International referenced the organization’s Platinum Protocols which lay out new procedures for the spa and health and beauty services.

“Covid has turned the world upside down but Caribbean people are resilient. Hygiene and sanitization have always been the bedrock of our business, but we have become extremely transparent in delivering on these safety standards.  For example, in meeting the needs of brides, make-up tools and products have been repackaged and personalized at no additional cost, to reduce cross contamination. In addition, all spa employees are equipped with the appropriate PPE, depending on the type of services that they provide,” said Paulette Clarke.

Bay Gardens Resort in St. Lucia has packaged a range of wellness treatments and activities to help guests destress and detox during their stay. The resort was represented by Dr. Samantha Semmalar Mahalingam, who also has her own local practice Ojas Spa & Wellness.

“The goal is for guests to check out feeling healthier and better than when they checked in, “ she said. This specialist in Indian Holistic medicine treats chronic illnesses using yoga, breathing techniques [Pranayama] and different types of meditation. She also offers Nutritional and Lifestyle consultations and performs Acupuncture.

Dr Samantha noted increased demand for immune boosting nutraceuticals and other preventative therapies that have surfaced on the new wellness landscape.  “In St. Lucia, we have an abundance of herbs, coconuts, turmeric, moringa, mango and tamarind that I use as part of my hot herbal bundle massage in my detox treatments,” she said.

Kallis St. Jules, Spa Manager at Bay Gardens commented “Wellness means everything to our guests. After 4 months of being closed, there is a renewed focus on wellness and the guests seem fairly comfortable with their spa experience and the enhanced protocols that have been implemented at Bay Gardens.” He also noted a heightened interest in spa treatments among men since the pandemic and believes that the resort will soon add yoga to its list of wellness offerings.

Panelists ended the discussion by emphasizing the need for strategies to sustain the demand for new or modified wellness options. This will ensure that the region can reap long term social and economic benefits, post COVID-19.

A number of Caribbean destinations are actively developing authentic, place-based wellness tourism products and brands to market their wellness offerings at the national level.

The growing demand for wellness trips with benefits that continue long after the tan lines have faded, will continue to fuel the holistic appeal of the region and create opportunities for all tourism stakeholders.

To listen to the TASC Live Wellness Webinar click  HERE



South Florida Caribbean News

The Team provides news and information for the Caribbean-American community in South Florida and beyond.

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