Caribbean countries with economies heavily reliant on tourism are facing another challenge as the industry is confronted with the real prospect of further delays to a much-hoped-for recovery.
A spate of COVIDS-19 cases in some of the region’s key tourism destinations coupled with the disease still running rampant in several source countries has dampened prospects of a return to normal anytime this year.
A surge of cases in countries such as Barbados, St Lucia, St Vincent, Antigua, St Maarten/St Martin, Aruba, the Bahamas and Jamaica, which all depend on tourism as a main economic pillar has forced a rethink by respective governments.
Their priority now is suppressing the outbreak within their borders rather than looking outward.
At the same time, source tourism countries; mainly the United States, the United Kingdom and European countries are grappling with their own challenges managing new strains of the virus now showing up in their populations.
Many have instituted travel restrictions on their citizens.
The UK this week announced tough and costly quarantine measures on persons coming into the country from abroad, including residents.
Vacations, including in-country ‘staycations’ are also being discouraged as the country remains in its third lockdown.
The United States has also toughened-up its COVID-related travel protocols forcing citizens to reconsider plans for immediate overseas vacations.
Destination countries are also under pressure by source markets to institute rigid and costly testing regimes, alongside quarantine periods which reduce the time that visitors spend actually ‘vacationing’.
Some Caribbean countries, their economies reeling from the slowdown in tourism, have ventured to marginally reopen their borders by rolling out the welcome mat to international air travel.
But in many instances they’ve had to roll it back, fine-tuning and tightening their protocols in the process.
Clearly off the agenda for the foreseeable future is cruise tourism, despite some cruise companies advertising and encouraging bookings in anticipation of a post-pandemic demand for stress-beating get-a-ways.
Initiatives to target niche tourism opportunities such as the popular remote worker scheme being introduced by many islands have been relatively slow to get off the ground.
The UN World Tourism Organisation, (UNWTO) has said that tourism is one of the sectors most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, impacting economies, livelihoods, public services and opportunities on all continents.
It had forecast that revenues from industry could fall by US$910 billion to $1.2 trillion in 2020, reducing global GDP by 1.5% to 2.8% - and tourism-dependent countries in the Caribbean are among the hardest hit.
An intensified global vaccination development and inoculation campaign is being relied on to arrest the further spreading of the pandemic.
Caribbean countries are in the queue of developing states, relying on the goodwill of developed countries with the capabilities of researching, manufacturing and distributing vaccines - the same source markets for the region's tourism.
Industry experts are expecting a huge post-pandemic growth in tourism as people yearn to escape the gruelling restrictions they have been forced to live under.
With its appeal of fun, relaxation and tranquillity, this return to normality - or some semblance of it - will be a boon to struggling Caribbean economies placed under added pressure due to the pandemic.