The Caribbean’s Uphill Battle to Restore Tourism
By Emilia Padín Sixto and Jorge Coromina Sánchez
In an effort to come up with solid strategies for the quick recovery of Caribbean economies, so devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic, a number of experts and boldface names from the Caribbean travel industry gathered virtually on Friday in a forum hosted by the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), and the Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre (GTRCMC).
The one-day event entitled “Tourism: The Key to the Caribbean’s Economic Recovery” brought together public and private sector leaders, the international tourism development community, members of civil society and the media in a bid to pinpoint lessons learned from the pandemic and address how the Caribbean can harness the economic power of tourism to mitigate the impact of the pandemic and rekindle the region’s economies.
Participants agreed that the main principles for tourism recovery in the Caribbean should contemplate the need to provide liquidity and protect jobs, the recovery of confidence through safety an security, as well as collaboration between the public and private sectors in order to guarantee the efficient reopening of the travel destinations.
The experts also believe that borders must be opened in a responsible way by harmonizing and coordinating protocols and procedures, couple with the application of new technologies and the added values of innovation and sustainability as part of the new normal.
Michel Julian, senior program officer with the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), said that international tourist arrivals worldwide plummeted a staggering 70% between January and August 2020, meaning 700 million less travelers and $730 billion in losses in that same span of time.
According to the UNWTO, the travel and tourism industry has lost eight times more money to the Covid 19 pandemic than in the 2009 global economic crisis.
Covid 19 Has Pounded the Caribbean Hard
One of the most gripping presentations during the virtual forum was delievered by Virginia Messina, managing director of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), who shed light on how hard the ongoing pandemic has hit the Caribbean region’s economy in the course of 2020.
The numbers she presented can’t be any bleaker. The Caribbean has lost 1.7 million tourism-related jobs so far and that figure could peak 1.9 million jobs if the current situation fails to improve. The region’s combined GDP has dropped 62% in 2020, with total losses in the neighborhood of $36 billion. International tourist arrivals plunged by 60% this year and could skirt around 70% would the pandemic get worse.
In her view, the Caribbean -as well as other world regions- should follow four principles on the road to tourism recovery:
1. International and public-private sector coordinated effort to effectively reestablish operations
2. Enhance existing seamless traveler journey experience by adding health components and the use of technology
3. Adoption of global health, hygiene and safety protocols and common standards
4. Continued government support for the sector in terms of fiscal, liquidity incentives, worker protection and investment
For his part, Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica’s Tourism Minister, also referred to seamlessness as one key factor to this process. He underscored the need for the Caribbean region to rationalize and simplify visas, air connections and travel.
Lisa Cummins, Minister of Tourism of Barbados and CTO chairwoman, voiced her concern on the fact that ongoing plans for the unification of rules in the Caribbean is simply not working since CARICOM member states have not reached an agreement on entry and quarantine rules and requirements.
Mrs. Cummins also said the CTO must work diligently, in the short run, in subsidizing wages of tourism workers, in boosting digitization, updating skills of the existing workforce and relying on green energy and resilience. As an extra goal for the future, the need to integrate destinations and turning them into one big destination Caribbean travel experience remains in the offing.