Barbados and other tourism-dependent countries across the region have been told to brace for declines in stay-over arrivals that could set the region’s major economic industry back as many as 25 years, according to Caribbean Tourism Organisation Acting Secretary General Neil Walters.
And, as regional stakeholders look toward a gradual re-opening of their borders, they are being encouraged to market the region as a destination which offers health, wellness and safety from the COVID-19 crisis.
During a CTO webinar today, Walters revealed that regional sectors have been left basically crippled following a 2019 season, which far exceeded global growth projections.
CTO statistics reveal a staggering 15.5 per cent reduction in air arrivals over the first quarter, when compared with last year. As COVID-19 cases increased, Caribbean countries endured a 39.7 per cent reduction in March alone.
The downward trends continued in the cruise industry where arrivals dipped by an estimated 19.1 per cent compared with last year and by 57.4 per cent when compared with stay-over visits.
“Tourism is the major economic driver so obviously these metrics show that essentially zero travel by the end of April will lead to significant economic impacts for the Caribbean and what we are projecting based on preliminary numbers is a minimum 50 per cent reduction in stay-over arrivals regionally for this year. This would basically take the Caribbean back to 1995/1996 levels and basically reverse 25 years of stayover arrival growth,” revealed Walters.
“Although we know that even though the relationship between receipts and arrivals is not linear, there would be a significant reduction as well in the receipts from tourism and then the automatic economic spill-off to the rest of the economy,” he added.
Real GDP in the Caribbean is expected to decline anywhere between 15 and 30 per cent along with increases in public debt between 15 and 60 per cent depending on the magnitude of the tourism fallout, according to Caribbean Development Bank figures.
But on Thursday, the acting CTO Secretary General suggested that a combined regional approach is necessary to forge a new identity, which presents the Caribbean as a place of escape from the realities of the troubling pandemic.
This includes significant integration of public health and tourism authorities to ensure that states have the necessary capacities to cater to the health needs of citizens and visitors alike throughout the ongoing crisis.
“Early on in the Caribbean’s time as a tourism destination, health and wellness was the attraction of the Caribbean. People came to the Caribbean to be healthier and well. Something that is old can be used again to help promote this region as a destination that people will want to come to as solace from what they have been experiencing over the past few months,” Walter’s explained.
“We are looking at the idea that the Caribbean comes out of the crisis with a very comprehensive and integrated plan, looking at several areas of promoting the Caribbean again to travellers.
“No one really expects the virus to go away completely and if we want to promote our destinations where people want to travel, we must ensure a system is in place to monitor the health of visitors and citizens alike and have the systems to manage the virus and its effects over an extended period of time,” the tourism expert said. [email protected]