More than 70 per cent of small and medium-sized tourism operations in the Caribbean are poised to recover from the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new survey has revealed.
This comes as travel experts in some of Barbados’ key source markets report a continued high demand for travel, but warned that COVID-19 protocols continued to impede a full recovery of the industry.
Giving an insight into the latest impact assessment survey carried out this summer among the more than 33 member countries of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), acting CEO and Director General of the CHTA Vanessa Ledesma said 72 per cent of these companies are expected to fully recover from the pandemic.
“The results were that small and medium-sized tourism businesses in the Caribbean are poised to recover. Ninety-nine per cent report implementing stronger health and safety protocols and over 8,000 supervisors, managers and owners have participated in training that we have deployed this past year,” said Ledesma.
However, she pointed out that the recovery was highly dependent on the region maintaining low infection, hospitalization and death from the virus.
Ledesma said current data pointed towards a high demand for travel to the region especially from the US market, which she said was due especially to the ease of accessibility and ease in regulation for US travellers to return home.
She said: “The accessibility of the region, brand identity and management of the pandemic” have also been key drivers of the demand for travel to the Caribbean from that market.
Pointing out that the region was no stranger to bouncing back from crises, the CHTA boss said her organisation remained “cautiously optimistic” that the Caribbean is well positioned to recover through tourism. It is expected that this recovery will be driven particularly by the acceleration and encouragement of vaccination, the continued adherence to health and safety protocols, opening of closed markets with safety assurance, but more importantly, the adaptability and flexibility and collaboration from all stakeholders with the objective of facilitating and stimulating travel.
Ledesma, who was a panellist on Wednesday during the American Association of Travel Advisors’ (ASTA) discussion on the status of international travel, said CHTA member states have also underscored the importance of continued marketing and public relations campaigns in source markets to help drive travel.
President and CEO of ASTA Zane Kerby said while the focus should continue to be on a safe return to international travel, there needed to be changes in policies that would encourage more people to take trips.
He said: “The situation today that we find ourselves is unwieldy and untenable. That here is a patchwork of constantly changing rules and regulations that depress demand and confuse the travelling public.”
He explained that vaccinated travellers were still being treated as if they pose the same risk as unvaccinated travellers. “We just think that needs to change,” he said.
“We think that the threat level from our government needs to come up to where the science is, which is that the vaccines are safe, that you are far less likely to get or spread the virus and far less likely to have any kind of hospitalization,” said Kerby.
He is suggesting that governments put two sets of rules in place – one for vaccinated travellers and another for the unvaccinated, adding that the travel industry could do with direct grants to help them bounce back.
Calling for clearer messages from governments to help “speed up” the recovery of travel, Kerby also called on travel industry leaders to turn up the pressure on authorities by pointing to the challenges they faced and being more vocal about the needs of the industry.
“In that way, we have to contact our legislators and bring that force there. The good news is that we have the numbers to do it,” he said.
Eric Drésin, General Secretary of European Travel Agents’ and Tour Operators’ Association (ECTAA), said while Europeans were eager to take a leisure trip overseas, many of them were taking domestic trips because of the travel protocols.
“So either it is in the country or intra-European travel. People take their car instead of flying by plane and go to the neighbouring countries. So there is a shift in the demand,” he reported.
“Another point is that there are a lot of last-minute bookings because of this ever-changing pattern of national legislation it is very difficult for people to travel. We have a patchwork of uncoordinated and ever-changing regulations and travel restrictions,” added Drésin.
Meanwhile, Greame Buck, Director of Communications at the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), pointed out that the travel industry stood to lose thousands more jobs and a further reduction in revenues if they did not get short to medium-term support from governments.
He said government policies regarding travel were making an already bad situation worse.