By Staff Writer
Caribbean destinations are kickstarting their tourism industries, some at a more aggressive rate than others, keen to recapture market share and reboot their economies.
With jobs at stake and government finances under pressure - in part from having to support workers laid-off because of the COVID-19 pandemic - the rush to reopen is also bordering on competition between destinations.
The Caribbean region has seen some of the highest comparative COVID-19 infection and mortality rates based on population size, although recent trends are now seeing a reduction in infections, hospitalisations and deaths.
The impact on regional economies has been equally severe, especially in the tourism sector where the policies of the source countries, mainly the US and Europe, have deterred travel.
With restrictions now being relaxed especially for quarantining, but coupled with a heavy emphasis on vaccinations, the outlook is encouraging.
Assessing the current situation the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) has described it as “light at the end of what has been a long tunnel.”
The prospects for at least for the medium term look encouraging judging on activity from the second half of 2021 when the region is reported to have outperformed the global average for stayover arrival growth and tourism’s contribution to gross domestic product (GDP).
In the third quarter of 2021 particularly, the Caribbean recorded 5.4 million tourist arrivals, almost three times the number compared to the same period of 2020 when the pandemic was at its peak.
However, the region is still a long way off from regaining its 2019 arrival and spending figures.
According to the CTO, “While the results to date have not indicated a return to 2019 levels, the exceptional results recorded in the summer to year-end period of 2021 show that a scaled or gradual rebound is likely and very possible by the end of 2022.”
The CTO is also urging “longer-term approaches to promote sectoral sustainability.”
The comeback trail for the Caribbean tourism industry has also been profiled in leading travel press and international media outlets.
In a new report, the New York Times reports that 14 out of 26 CTO member countries have reported increases in international visitors in 2021, with other regional destinations showing better-than-anticipated visitor numbers last year.
The stayover sector and air travel have been more robust than the cruise sector, which suffered dramatic CVOID outbreaks and almost crippling financial losses.
The cruise industry is keen to make a comeback and has already started sailing again with the Caribbean among the top in-demand destinations.
The New York Times says that while “across the region, the numbers of cruise visitors fell precipitously during the pandemic and trying to get them to return is a major priority with some Caribbean nations resorted to more creative measures to attract cruisers.”
Here in Cayman, where air travel and stay-overs are gradually returning, a more cautious approach has been adopted for the cruise industry.
Hon. Min. of Tourism Kenneth Bryan said a few days ago in a live-streamed podcast that an announcement could be expected shortly;y on the way forward for the cruise sector in Cayman under a plan for what he said would be “a more sustainable model” for the industry here.
Mr Bryan has commissioned a report based on concerns over managing the huge numbers of cruise passengers and the resulting impact on congestion both in George Town and at the beaches.
“We're trying not to just go back to where the levels were before where there was chaos downtown. I've requested a report to find out what is the sustainable number for the Cayman Islands because I think that the previous numbers before the pandemic was not where the people of Cayman Islands were comfortable.”
Looking at the livelihood of the people who work in the sector and the wider economic implications, he explained that the objective is to have what he called “the right equilibrium for the cruise industry”, adding that "persons who are working in the industry can still make their money and provide for their families, but without the high volume (of cruise tourists) which affects our communities,” he said.
Mr Bryan recently hosted a meeting between the Cayman Islands Government(CIG) and top officials of the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA), whose member companies - and passengers - are said to be keen to return to Cayman.
Talks focussed on the practicalities of specific public health protocols the government is considering for the cruise sector, and its proposals to “rebalance” the industry here.
Recalling examples of around 25,000 people per day coming ashore from visiting cruise ships, Tourism Minister Bryan, however said that while the review is ongoing, “in the interim we can’t wait for that perfect restructuring of the cruise passengers. We want to get the industry going as we analyse the best way to structure what is the ideal number of passengers we want per day.”
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