Tourism industry officials are optimistic of a “strong” tourism performance for Barbados and the rest of the region come 2021.
Addressing the second installment of the Caribbean Economic Forum on Tuesday night under the topic Reviving Caribbean Tourism, panellists insisted that despite several concerns in key source markets, people were generally looking forward to taking a trip to the region mainly because officials have been able to contain the spread of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
President of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) Patricia Affonso-Dass said she believed the region’s tourism product would bounce back by early next year given its resilience and ability to recover after a major natural disaster.
However, she said this would require continued coordinated and consistent messages from regional destinations, transparency and flexibility.
“So I am looking for a strong 2021 and a positive winter,” said Affonso-Dass.
Describing the region as “extremely strong”, Affonso-Dass said the Caribbean product remained unique and based on how governments have handled the pandemic it remained an ideal destination.
Without providing figures, she pointed out that bookings for the fall and winter seasons could have been stronger had some source markets and other countries in Asia and Europe better managed the viral illness.
“With the protracted situation in the US and the continuing concern in the UK there is a rolling push back on bookings. So that is something that we would have liked to have seen differently at this point,” said Affonso-Dass.
“But I think the most important thing right now is that when destinations do open that they are doing so safely, that they are providing excellent experiences, tremendous value, and that they are really instilling confidence in these first sets of visitors who come to our destinations,” she said.
The CHTA represents some 33 destinations in the Caribbean. Affonso-Dass said since the start of the pandemic information sharing and collaboration between government and the private sector have been common features among destinations.
Former Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) Sue Springer said she remained optimistic that the region’s tourism product could rebound next year.
However, Springer, who is the Director of Corporate and Government Relations at the Caribbean Council in the UK, said in addition to an expected decline in economic activity in the UK, consumer confidence has also fallen.(MM)
“This low consumer confidence coupled with high unemployment will continue to impact what is happening with regard to people wanting to travel throughout 2020,” she said, adding that the weakening of the British Pound against the US dollar could also be a deciding factor.
She said there were several lingering concerns among the UK travellers including the need for more flexibility in cancellation policies, surety in safety and protocols and need for special offers.
“One of the major fears of clients include the inability to get a test in the UK within the 72 hours of travelling which is one of the things most Caribbean islands have asked for. Then the test results are taking up to 96 hours to get and the cost is 150 pounds per person.
“Some of the other things they are also concerned about, that the experience may not be as full as usual, that some of the activities or restaurants may be closed, and there’s concerns about the danger of consumer confidence due to differences in regulations between the UK and the different destinations,” said Springer.
Springer said despite the current challenges, Britons “love their vacations and it will be one of the very last things they will give up”.
“Luckily, the Caribbean has an amazing reputation in the UK and due to the fact that the islands have managed to control the pandemic, and put into effect strict protocols and systems, the fear of travel to the region is very much minimized,” she said, adding that recent studies have shown that more than half of UK residents were already planning for a vacation and started putting money aside for such.
She said: “Some people are looking to book for the last quarter of 2020 and for early 2021. Others are holding strain to see what is happening before taking their final decision, but they haven’t cancelled.”
Professor Clive Landis, Chairman of the UWI COVID-19 Task Force, said officials in the tourism industry should have a high level of comfort since regional economies did not face that much of a risk when opening up to countries considered “low risk”.
“The difficulty comes when you start to open up to moderate-risk such as the UK or Canada, or high-risk such as the US or Brazil. Then if you take a risk-based approach these risks can be managed,” he said.
Jamaica was among the first in the Caribbean to put re-opening protocols in place and open its airports to commercial flights.
Minister of Tourism in Jamaica Edmund Bartlett said one of the unique things the country did early was to implement an app to get information from people seeking to visit or return to Jamaica, so they could do early screening.
To date, Jamaica has welcomed some 60,000 visitors and returning nationals, and earned a little over US$85 million since opening in mid-June to commercial flights, Bartlett disclosed.