Expect tourism to be greatly changed as the Caribbean joins the rest of the world in reopening borders to visitors following the forced closures triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, the region’s top tourism official has said.
Neil Walters, the acting secretary-general of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), predicts closer alignment of tourism and health functions as destinations seek to reassure potential visitors that their health, safety and well-being are being taken seriously.
Walters said not only did the pause in tourism activity hurt Caribbean economies and disrupt lives, but it also allowed Caribbean countries to retrain workers across the sector and improve the product.
Appearing in the final episode of the CTO podcast, COVID-19: The Unwanted Visitor, Secretary-General Walters said: “One thing that has become critical is that the tourism that emerges from this pause will be different from the tourism that paused at the end of March. And the key way it will be different is that now tourism will be living and functioning with COVID-19.
“That means that there will be a significant integration of tourism and health functions across the world – not just in the Caribbean – and the Caribbean as arguably the most tourism-dependent region in the world has had to do the same thing: integrate tourism functions to ensure the safety and health of visitors and locals alike.
“Although it has been economically impactful, that pause has actually given our destinations the chance to get that new process right, to work on getting it right, and to ensure that they reopen in a way that there’s a level of comfort on all sides.”
Walters, who is acting secretary-general following the recent retirement of his predecessor, Hugh Riley, also urged that the level of collaboration among CTO member states during the pandemic will continue.
“I’ve been very heartened by the level of collaboration that I’ve seen throughout this process. I hope that collaboration continues. That is the way this region and the brand Caribbean will become stronger. Even in the face of all the uncertainty we faced recently, that collaboration is key. I think that once we continue that collaboration, the spirit that it has been done in so far, the region which we live in will bounce back,” he told the CTO podcast.