The Caribbean is still at risk of losing some 200,000 jobs linked to the now highly depressed travel and tourism sector, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).
Managing Director of the WTTC Virginia Messina gave the sober warning as she pointed out that Caribbean economies stood to lose out big time if travel restrictions remained in place in key source markets for the remainder of the year, and the region did not move quickly to implement a synchronised strategic plan.
Messina said this year there will be some 1.7 million jobs lost linked to the travel and tourism sector “and if there is no improvement in terms of the restrictions and if there is no recovery during December, this number could be all the way up to 1.9 million. So we know at least 200, 000 jobs are currently at stake.”
Messina was a panellist on a recent online tourism discussion forum held under the theme Tourism: The Key to the
Caribbean’s Economic Recovery.
She said the region has already witnessed a loss of US$36 billion this year in gross domestic product (GDP) contribution from the sector, and in a worst-case scenario, that amount could reach US$42 billion. It is estimated that the sector contributed some US$59 billion to the region’s GDP last year.
The Caribbean has also seen a drop of about 60 per cent in international travel and a 40 per cent decline in domestic travel. Worse case scenario, she said, the declines could reach 68 per cent and 52 per cent, respectively.
The declines came a year after the region’s tourism sector growth was outpacing the average economic growth. Data from the WTTC showed that while the Caribbean GDP grew at 1.9 per cent last year, the growth of the travel and tourism sector in the region grew 3.4 per cent, and directly supported some 2.8 million jobs.
It is estimated that the region welcomed a mere nine million visitors between January and November this year, a decline of about 70 per cent, when compared to 2019.
Messina said in order to enable a faster recovery, the region should continue to go after business travel, and countries should have a consistent and coordinated approach.
She is also of the view that the Caribbean should learn from past catastrophes and governments should continue to provide fiscal and other support to the sector.
“What will help us is not trying to create new travel processes, but how can we make that journey safe and seamless, and we need to make sure there is a cohesive approach that provides confidence to travellers.
“If we look at previous crises, for example, like the 9/11 crisis in the US, back then our sector was reinvented. This is a second time we will have to reinvent ourselves and this time it is not a security crisis, but a health crisis, but what is it that we can learn from previous crises that can help us this time around?” she noted.
Messina added: “There will be no recovery unless there is a comprehensive testing regime in place. So for us, testing is going to be really fundamental for recovery even when a vaccine is widely available.”
Acknowledging that it could take “some time” for countries to inoculate their population, she said regional destinations should employ more rapid testing as opposed to the more costly PCR tests, so as to ensure continued travel to the region.
“We have to make sure that a vaccine does not become a requirement for international travel. That is why testing is going to be so relevant,” she said.
Michel Julian, Senior Programme Officer at the UNWTO, said data will be key for Caribbean countries to make strategic decisions for their recovery.