The Caribbean “may now find itself struggling to recover in 2022” due to the uncertainty surrounding the Omicron COVID-19 variant, the tenacity of the Delta variant, the level of vaccine hesitancy by many residents, and a complacency in adherence to health and safety protocols, says President of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) Nicola Madden-Greig.
The situation is exacerbated by increased by travel bans and restrictions which had initially led to some traveller cancellations and a decrease in booking levels, the CHTA reports.
Madden-Greig sounded the alarm in a recent letter to the head of the CARICOM (Caribbean Community) and copied to the region’s Heads of Government and health and tourism leaders.
In addition to calling for the continued adherence to health safety protocols and stepped up vaccinations, Madden-Greig warned that closing Caribbean borders and imposing travel barriers could have severe consequences for the region's economies.
In addition, travel bans could harm global health efforts during a pandemic “by disincentivizing countries to report and share epidemiological and sequencing data.”
The CHTA concurs with the World Health Organization's (WHO) opposition to blanket travel bans which it says would not prevent the international spread, while placing a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.
Prior to the emergence of the Omicron variant and additional travel bans and restrictions, the outlook for the peak travel period this winter and spring, and for the return of intra-Caribbean business and leisure travel by Caribbean residents and the diaspora, was strong.
The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) has cited Caribbean tourism as recovering faster from the pandemic than any region with tourism’s contribution to GDP expected to rise more than 47 percent this year. In contrast, the global economy is set to receive a 30.7 percent year-on-year increase from Travel & Tourism in 2021.
As such, the CHTA is urging Caribbean governments to “strike the delicate balance between the health safety of our residents and visitors, and the restoration of our economies.”
Vaccination & testing
Underscoring the need for care in applying travel bans, the CHTA reported advanced bookings of airline tickets and hotel stays indicated a potential tourism recovery rate in 2022 of more than 70 percent of the industry’s 2019 peak performance levels.
Tourists should also be encouraged by the fact that vaccination rates for employees in the region’s tourism industry far outpace those for the general population.
The CHTA reported that 28 per cent of employers surveyed reported that 100 percent of their employees were fully vaccinated and an additional 20 percent reported that between 75 and 99 percent of their workforce was fully vaccinated.
The CHTA sought renewed commitments from governments for reducing the high cost of approved PCR and antigen tests for tourists, supporting destinations experiencing difficulty achieving one and two-day turnaround times for processing test results, by appealing to U.S., U.K, and Canadian governments for the latest testing equipment.
There was a need to expand the availability of self-test kits, increased vaccination rates, advancing booster shots, and including tourism-related employees in priority tiers for these additional shots, the CHTA says.
The association also asked for stepped-up health safety compliance for employees and visitors to reduce complacency in adhering to, and enforcing, health safety measures.
The industry is also being asked to continue to provide flexible cancellation policies and affordable travel insurance.
In its letter, the CHTA stressed that messaging must be collectively communicated that the Caribbean was still the most viable destination for safe international travel.
“Our ability to continue to manage our way through the pandemic is the fastest path to recovery, getting displaced employees back to work, ensuring businesses survive, and replenishing badly needed government revenues as we collectively work towards the sustained growth for our economies,” Madden-Greig said.