After the year-long devastation caused by COVID-19, indicators point to a significant recovery of the tourism sector in Barbados and the region, and Americans are leading that comeback, with over a trillion dollars in household savings and about 60 to 70 per cent indicating a readiness to travel immediately.
Frank Comito, former chief executive officer and director general of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), says the group’s data collecting partners such as MasterCard and TravelZoo, indicate Americans are leading the leisure travel recovery which has already started in many Caribbean countries.
The United Kingdom and Canada, which are important sourced markets for Barbados are still not open for leisure travel. While many Barbadians are worried about the possibility of another COVID-19 outbreak as the country reopens to mass tourism, Comito revealed that most Americans travelling to the Caribbean are prioritising health and safety.
They want to be assured they can have a COVID-19 test at their hotel or at the airport to allow them to return home hassle-free. About 70 per cent of Americans and Europeans are expected to be fully vaccinated by
year-end, and Comito said only about 11 per cent of American travellers indicated they had no intentions of taking a COVID-19 vaccine.
During an online discussion on recovery of the tourism industry, Comito said Barbados was among the preferred destinations, though countries geographically closer to the United States, were getting most of the business. The United States Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos and Puerto Rico, were leading with the highest average occupancy rates.
With 90 per cent of the Caribbean’s hotels reopened for business, the high-ranking special advisor to the CHTA noted: “The United States makes up the dominant market share for the Caribbean and the highest
state-side vaccine rates are occurring in our major
state-side markets of the mid-Atlantic, north-east states and in Florida.
“This is very encouraging. There is a massive amount of unspent money out there, about US $1.7 trilling in household savings to help spur travel and discretionary travel. “More than 60 to 70 per cent of travellers say they are ready to travel now, and that is the highest level we have seen since the pandemic started. About 80 per cent of them said they have travel plans over the next six months, though the bulk of that will be domestic.”
Americans are leading the resurgence of international air travel to the Caribbean, representing 85 per cent of forward booking ticket sales in 2021 when compared to 61 per cent in 2019, the CHTA revealed.
“In the percentage share of tickets booked through 2021, US travellers to the Caribbean represent 34 per cent of all US international bookings, compared to 17 per cent during the same period last year. We are capturing the lion’s share of US international departures,” Comito told tourism officials during the Zoom session. Hoteliers and tourism planners, he said, were also buoyed by the news that Americans were booking longer stays, though they still remained last minute bookers.
“Regarding flights to the Caribbean, the biggest gains are coming out of Philadelphia, Newark, Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Denver and Los Angeles. “Miami, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, JFK are still underperforming. But we expect that they will soon become part of the rising flights list.”
On the controversial matter of vaccinations against COVID-19, Comito revealed that data on consumer behaviour showed that destinations which made it easier for guests to get a COVID-19 test on their return were at a distinct advantage. “Over 25 per cent of hotels reported to the CHTA in March that they are providing on-site testing for return travellers; and they don’t have to be PCR tests which makes it easier”.
The top tourism expert also advised hoteliers not to be too hasty to lower their room rates, but instead offer attractive deals and packages. According to MasterCard data, 75 per cent of American travellers said they are willing to pay more if they could be assured of their health and safety. Interestingly, it was millennials who comprise the bulk of eager visitors. About 76 per cent of them indicated they were planning a post-COVID splurge and 67 per cent have saved money for travel.
He said data showed 35 per cent of millennials were spending more on wellness activities and 82 per cent have picked up hobbies during the pandemic. According to Comito, he was very encouraged by the level of investment still taking place in the tourism sector. “Investmnt in new hotels is holding despite the pandemic.
We have about 6 000 rooms still under some stage of development and construction. That is only a couple hundred less what we had prior to the pandemic. It is clear the investor community is still pretty positive about the region,” he remarked. (IMC1)