The tourism and travel industry has shown a consistent ability to bounce back from tough times, says the head of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association.
“Our industry is incredibly resilient, globally as well as regionally,” CHTA CEO and Director General Frank Comito said on a CHTA/Caribbean Zoom chat. “We bounce back and we bounce back usually better and stronger than we were.”
Some critics have said the Caribbean should diversify and move away from tourism.
“I disagree totally with that,” he said. “I think tourism presents the Caribbean with its greatest opportunity to recover and renew, and as we heard from other speakers, diversifying within tourism should guide our reshaping. We should go with our strengths.”
“We’re well positioned to recover through tourism,” Comito said. “We have a strong base of customer loyalty, unmatched natural beauty, proximity and access to major markets. Our product diversity and our resiliency and our ability to quickly bounce back from adversity.”
He also noted that the region has an outstanding health and safety record, with “some of the best standards going on right now.”
“We’re built for wellness,” he said. “We’re a culture of hospitality. And we have a Caribbean brand recognition.”
He also said tourism has been a driver of positive change in the region for more than half a century.
“It’s a major employment generator, drives infrastructure development, builds unity and … develops our people. It’s compatible with the Caribbean culture of hospitality, so it fits really well with who we are and what we offer. It works and creates local entrepreneurial activity, enhances safety and security… promotes cultures, celebrates uniqueness, effectively differentiates our markets, it attracts added airlift for travel, not only for visitors but for residents, and reduces costs as well.”
Comito said tourism is often a misunderstood socioeconomic tool.
Caribbean tourism chart
“As the dollars circulate around our economy, it touches everything. Everything. Everything. It allows for government services for schools, education, police, infrastructure, other types of business; the bank, the beauty parlour, and so on and so on.”
Michel Julien, Officer, Tourism Market Intelligence and Competitiveness at the United Nations World Tourism Organization, said 100 to 120 million tourism jobs around the world are at risk from the pandemic.
Julien said recovery for international tourism is likely two and-a-half to four years away. “But we also assume that there will be a strong rebound by the middle of 2021.”
A lot depends on key factors, he said, including containing the virus, restoring traveller confidence and a “major lifting of travel restrictions.”
Virginia Messina, Managing Director at the World Travel and Tourism Council, said the world needs more open borders, removal of travel barriers and a reversal of bans on non-essential travel.
The world also needs a comprehensive virus testing program because the vaccine will take some time to roll out. Those tests need to be affordable, rapid tests because the PCR variety takes too long and is too expensive, she said.
Messina said she’s seen a number of technologies and innovations being employed to arrange safe and seamless travel, including health passes.
“We need to make sure a vaccine is not a requirement for international travel,” she said.
Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica’s tourism minister. (Photo by Brian Major).
Jamaica Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett said recovery depends on open borders.
“The pandemic is the worst crisis international tourism has faced since records began being kept in the 1950s, and the Caribbean’s most severe disruption in more than a century,’ he said. “Ten of the 20 most tourism-dependent countries in the world are in the Caribbean.”
Bartlett also said Caribbean nations need to avoid fighting with one another.
“The Caribbean has to be seen as an integrated region, where we collaborate, and we share resources and we market ourselves in a multi-destination way.”
A single visa or passport for the Caribbean also would make travel in the region more seamless, he said.