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Caribbean expected to be winter tourism hotspot

Published:Thursday | December 16, 2021 | 12:10 AMJanet Silvera/Senior Gleaner Writer
Visitors arrive at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, St James, on Wednesday, December 15, the beginning of the winter tourist season.
Visitors arrive at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, St James, on Wednesday, December 15, the beginning of the winter tourist season.


Despite fears around emerging coronavirus variant Omicron, the Caribbean is projected to be one of the few hotspots this winter tourist season as the region regains its stronghold on international arrivals, outperforming the rest of the world.

Using big data as its crystal ball, travel analytics company ForwardKeys told journalists during a Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) press conference on Wednesday that up to November, the region was only 16 per cent behind 2019 levels and was expecting record arrivals until the new strain appeared on the horizon.

“Sixteen per cent behind is a much better performance than the world average at -59 per cent,” stated Olivier Ponti, vice-president of insights at ForwardKeys.

Putting the numbers into perspective, the ForwardKeys executive showed graphs depicting the Americas at -37 per cent; Africa and the Middle East at -44 per cent; and Asia and the Pacific, which are renowned for attracting business travel, forecasting flat figures for 2022.

The US Virgin Islands, the Dominican Republic, and Turks and Caicos were the top performers in the region, with Jamaica among the top 10 countries, hewing close to 2019 numbers and moving towards full recovery.

The United States, which is just discovering a number of Omicron cases, remains the region’s number one source market. Other source markets such as the Netherlands, France, and the UK are still struggling but producing encouraging results.

Countries such as Bonaire, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St Maarten, and Aruba are among the leaders seeing a comeback, with St Lucia behind by a mere two per cent when compared with 2019.

With air capacity being the driver of the land-based accommodations sector, the outlook shows Spirit Air and United Airlines back to 2019 levels, owing to having more scheduled capacity. JetBlue, American Airlines, and Delta are still behind pre-COVID performance. However, Ponti believes that the situation can change over the coming months.

“It seems to me that there are good reasons to believe that the Caribbean will be one of the few tourism hotspots this winter, and that means plenty of opportunities for destinations and tourism businesses,” Ponti disclosed.

Already, CHTA President Nicola Madden-Greig, in a letter to the CARICOM Heads of Government chairman, Prime Minister Gaston Brown of Antigua & Barbuda, has called for continued diligence and opened borders during the pandemic.

Madden-Greig, who also addressed the media on Wednesday, said the region had proven to be resilient, with positivity rates around one per cent.

“This actually shows that our protocols are working .... . We continue to focus on our protocols,” she stated.

The CHTA president said that vaccination added a crucial layer of protection against infections. “So we feel that Government should take a second look at that. And the Caribbean market has been very good at protecting its visitors as well as its workers in the industry, and its citizens in general,” Madden-Greig said.

She said that this should reassure travellers and Caribbean residents that risk levels from tourists are extremely low.

Madden-Greig warned that putting onerous measures in place would retard the sustained recovery of travel and tourism in regional economies, which she said had restored an estimated 70 per cent of related employment and “supported the replenishment of sorely needed tax revenue to governments”.