Nowhere is the world’s modern infrastructure more evident than in the Caribbean. Turks and Caicos (T&C) is the latest Caribbean destination to witness the benefit of the region’s modern infrastructure. After Hurricane Irma, it was revealed that the country’s infrastructure was in a state of great disrepair. To make matters worse, all of the resorts in T&C were destroyed by the hurricane, leaving just over 100 days to completely rebuild the hotels. That doesn’t sound like a lot of time, and it’s not. However, a tropical cyclone that size, and with the devastating damage it did, has changed the luxury resort landscape forever. The rebuilding process has been more difficult than anyone anticipated, and, in many ways

The Turks and Caicos Islands have been enjoying a remarkable recent surge in popularity, from the rise of the cruise ship industry and increased cruise ship tourism of the islands to a surge in high-end luxury resorts. These islands are a paradise for travelers who want to relax on a luxurious resort, but still have access to all the amenities of modern life, from world-class restaurants and fine dining to professional service staff.

Hotels and resorts in the Caribbean continue to work closely with government officials to resume key tourism activities following pandemic-related closures. With a comprehensive system of immigration protocols, the Turks and Caicos Islands have become a popular option for travelers returning to the region.

The archipelago’s luxurious resorts and convenient air links to the cities on the east coast attract holidaymakers. Hartling Group properties were among those that saw a resurgence in visitors, including The Palms Turks and Caicos and The Shore Club at Grace Bay Beach resorts in Providenciales.

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We spoke with Karen S. Witt, vice president of sales and marketing for the Hartling Group, parent company of The Palms Turks & Caicos and The Shore Club, about the resorts and strategies for reopening the area. Ms Witt is also a member of the board of directors of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) and served as president of the Turks and Caicos Hotel and Tourism Association from 2008 to 2013.

Karen Whitt, Hartling Group VP

(TA): What will customers familiar with the old Palms and Shore Club complexes find new now?

Karen S. Whitt (KW): Guests will find new safety protocols and hygiene measures in all The Palms and The Shore Club hotels. We have assigned a health concierge at each hotel so guests can get help booking free COVID tests or ask questions about TCI Assured travel forms.

Plus, we’re redefining privacy and taking it to the next level [with] private transfers to and from the airport, private poolside cabanas, a personal chef or butler at your disposal, and an underground tunnel for transportation to and from the Shore Club villas. New immune-boosting drink menus and body care kits are available in the venue to promote wellness in a unique and healthy way.

TA : How has tourism in the Turks and Caicos Islands developed this year since the pandemic, and how has the resort been able to grow the group’s business in this environment?

Current trend

KW: Tourism in the Turks and Caicos Islands has improved considerably since [the vaccines] were distributed. We immediately saw an influx of new and returning travelers looking for a much-needed post-pandemic vacation, [including] families, couples, solo travelers and groups, especially those looking to make up missed stops or rescheduled appointments.

TA : How will the new events affect the influx of visitors to the Turks and Caicos Islands?

KW: We hope that the resumption of events on the island will continue to encourage travelers to pack their bags and join us. The discovery of the island was exciting, but the recapture of the destination requires a collaborative approach. As an island community, including our hotels, restaurants and venues, we focus on safe and healthy travel.

Travelers must also do their part by following CDC guidelines to keep the island and its employees healthy so that we can run these activities as efficiently as possible. With the planning of TCI’s International Film Festival, we are very excited and hope that this will be the first public event since COVID that we can hold to showcase our culture and history.

TA : The Caribbean as a region and the Turks and Caicos Islands as a destination appear to have weathered the COVID-19 outbreak relatively well. What measures do you think have contributed to the territory’s success in combating the pandemic so far?

KW: Caribbean countries, including TSI, have taken tremendous steps to regulate cross-border movement to significantly reduce the incidence of the disease. After the border was reopened, we knew we had to create a significant and effective system to limit the number of refugees – that became our TCI Assured program.

TCI Assured is an online portal where all international travelers must be certified before traveling to the Turks and Caicos Islands. TCI Assured is also the name of a mandatory quality control system for hotels, villas, restaurants and vehicles. All facilities must be TCI Assured certified and display a certification plaque.

TA : How did the Hartling Group protect travel industry workers while maintaining attendance after resuming travel operations in 2020?

KW: Since the border has reopened to travelers, the Hartling group has taken a number of steps and initiatives to protect his team and help others. Working with other partners on the island, we launched the Staples Mission to provide food and basic necessities to workers affected by the current interruption to hotel operations.

We were able to distribute packages of 20-30 basic necessities to provide basic necessities and comfort in times of despair, as well as put food on the table for families in need. As we continue to monitor the pandemic closely, we have tried to convince everyone to follow the recommendations of the health workers and to continue to support the team.

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