A Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) 2020 visitor arrivals report issued Monday documents the heavy toll the COVID-19 pandemic took on the tourism-reliant region in 2020.
At the same time, the report expresses hope for a turnaround in 2021, with CTO officials predicting 20 percent arrivals increase this year.
Caribbean destinations’ 2021 tourism fortunes “will depend largely on the success of the authorities in the marketplace and the region in combatting, containing and controlling the [COVID-19] virus,” CTO officials said in the report. The officials called the increasing distribution of vaccines in North America, Europe and the Caribbean as “encouraging signs.”
CTO is predicting a 20 percent region-wide visitor increase this year. (Photo by Brian Major
Nevertheless “other factors” including “lockdowns in our key source markets, which are expected to continue into the second quarter,” and the likelihood that international travel confidence will not rebound until the summer of 2021, could stall the region’s tourism growth, the officials said.
Other potential hurdles include “a steep fall in the number of people planning to travel abroad and the possible requirement by the authorities in our key markets for their citizens to vaccinate before traveling abroad.”
Last year, “with government restrictions both in the Caribbean and globally reducing, and in many cases, preventing travel for large periods of time,” the region suffered steep land-based and cruise ship visitor arrivals declines, said CTO officials in a statement. Despite the sharp drop, “the [Caribbean] performed better than any other region in world,” they noted.
Arrivals in CTO-member countries fell to just over 11 million in 2020, a 65.5 percent decline compared with the record 32.0 million tourists who traveled to the region in 2019. Yet the Caribbean’s 2020 visitor decrease was considerably smaller than the 73.9 percent average decline global destinations experienced during the same period, CTO officials said.
Two key factors helped Caribbean destinations fare better than other global destinations, said officials: during a “significant portion” of the winter season, from January to mid-March of last year, Caribbean destinations reported “average levels of tourist arrivals” compared with 2019.
Secondly, “the main (summer) season in other regions coincided with the period where there was normally very limited international travel,” the CTO officials said.
The period from April through June of 2020 “was characterized by empty hotels and restaurants, deserted attractions, shut borders, laid-off workers, grounded airlines and crippled cruise lines,” said CTO officials.
Caribbean cruise calls declined 72 percent in 2020. (Photo by Brian Major)
Since that time, “the influx of visitors has not reached levels even closely comparable to those being experienced prior to March 2020,” they said. Some Caribbean destinations in fact remain closed to visitors, with airlift dedicated primarily to cargo and the repatriation of locals.
Caribbean countries experienced “virtually no tourism” beginning in mid-March, said officials. However, “tourists began visiting again in June as the sector began to reopen,” and while overall land-based arrivals numbers remained far below historic norms through September, a “gradual reversal” began that month and continued through December of 2020, officials said.
“Destination initiatives such as the long-stay work programs,” combined with “other promotional activities and efforts of regional organizations” including CTO, the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association and the Caribbean Public Health Agency, contributed to the gradual rise in arrivals, said officials.
As with overnight, land-based arrivals, Caribbean cruise visitor arrivals were buoyed by the segment’s performance during the first three months of 2020, said CTO officials.
Still, a 20.1 percent first-quarter arrivals decline was followed by “no activity for the remainder of the year as ships remained non-operational” after the Centers for Disease Control issued a no-sail” order idling cruise ships departing from U.S. ports.
“The overall result was a slide to 8.5 million cruise visits,” a 72 percent decline compared with the 30 million visits recorded in 2019,” said CTO officials.
Meanwhile, regional visitor expenditures declined by 60 to 80 percent “based on information derived from international partners such as the UNWTO, and the limited reporting by Caribbean countries,” the study reported.
Additionally, CTO data indicates that the average length of stay for 2020 remained at roughly seven nights, matching the 2019 figure.