Perhaps the most missed element of pre-pandemic life was that annual breezy Caribbean vacation – now a seemingly distant daydream (sigh). Naturally, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Caribbean hard, as passports of would-be sun-seekers began to gather dust. In an attempt to curb travel as the pandemic rages on, Canada has even banned its major airlines from flying travellers to the Caribbean.
So, how’s the Caribbean doing?
Well, not as bad as one may assume; but still not great. According to the 2020 visitors report from the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), despite the drop in travellers by both land and cruise ship, the Caribbean actually performed better than any other region in the world.
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Arrivals in CTO-member countries did drop a dramatic 65.5 percent in 2020 from the record-breaking year prior; however, the Caribbean’s decline in visitors was actually significantly smaller than the 73.0 percent average decline other global destinations experienced in the same period. Much of this has to do with the healthy levels of tourism from January to March 2020 (when many were blissfully unaware of the global chaos about to ensue) and the fact that the “off-season” summer months are always slower for Caribbean travel, pandemic or not.
That’s not to say the palm tree and resort-filled region isn’t hurting. According to CTO officials, April through June 2020 was characterized by “empty hotels and restaurants, deserted attractions, shut borders, laid-off workers, grounded airlines, and crippled cruise lines” in the Caribbean. Not surprisingly, in the time period since, the influx of visitors hasn’t reached levels remotely comparable to those experienced prior to March 2020, says CTO. Some Caribbean destinations remain closed to travellers.
Until the world returns to a state of normal(ish), the Caribbean has been doing all it can to entice travellers to safely visit (or to plan for future travel) and to rebuild its tourist-centric economy.
A Shift to Accommodate Remote Work Possibilities
Some Caribbean islands have amped up their appeal as destinations to live and work remotely – something that doesn’t sound too shabby at all after a Canadian winter of quarantine measures. Once it became clear we were in it for the long haul on the pandemic front, remote-work programs began to spring up across the Caribbean. These programs involve certified, approved properties that range from hotels and resorts to villas and Airbnbs.
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Barbados was the first to make the move back in July with its Welcome Stamp program, which offers a special visa to remote workers for up to a year. Bermuda followed suit in August with the launch of the One Year work program, which also allowed non-Bermudians to relocate their home and office to the beloved island. Before too long, Anguilla, Antigua, Aruba, Barbuda, the Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Curacao, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico all jumped on board.
With many physical office spaces shutting down for good, the once dream of the “digital nomad” way of life is actually feasible now in many industries across the board. Now that it’s gaining traction, it’s safe to say the remote work culture will become more of a fixture in parts of the Caribbean.
Airbnb Jumps on Board to Help the Cause
Hotel industry disrupter Airbnb is now part of the equation when it comes to travel recovery efforts in the Caribbean. Earlier this month, Airbnb signed a partnership with the CTO to promote its member countries across its global community. As part of the deal, Airbnb will share data and travel trends with the CTO to facilitate informed and strategic marketing decisions during this recovery period.
Central to this partnership is a marketing campaign that includes email newsletters to Airbnb subscribers, as well as a promotional landing page that profiles the CTO’s member countries and their pandemic safety protocol. The landing page will feature 18 countries from the English, French, and Dutch Caribbean, promoting homes in each country and linking to each destination’s website.
In its recent visitor report, the CTO predicts a 20 percent increase in tourism for 2021. CTO officials note that the outcome will “depend largely on the success of the authorities in the marketplace and the region in combatting, containing and controlling the [COVID-19] virus.” The report also points to lingering lockdowns in key source markets as an obvious factor, in addition to international travel confidence. The report also points to the possibility that there will be a requirement of vaccination to travel.
In a recent panel hosted by CTO, five key points resonated: island quarantine measures don’t work for travellers with limited vacation days; the Caribbean should ease entry restrictions or lose travellers to Hawaii and Mexico; the luxury travel sector is leading the Caribbean’s recovery; last-minute travel is gaining the most traction, and Q4 and 2022 should show that travel is on the road to a strong recovery.
Not everyone is overly optimistic about a Caribbean comeback in the near future. During a recent Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) round table, World Bank president David Malpass reportedly expressed skepticism that the 2021 3.8 percent economic recovery figure predicted by the Caribbean Development Bank (CBD) in February would materialize. According to World Bank, the Caribbean will experience a degree of recovery, but not enough to compensate for the 2020 blow.
While the ever-changing COVID-19 situation brings no shortage of constant uncertainty – making planning for travel in the near future tricky – one thing remains certain: it’s always a good time to add sunny spots to the travel bucket list. And for many exhausted and perpetually locked down Canadians, nothing sounds better right now than the dreamy Caribbean, in all of its sun, sand, and sea-filled glory.
It may not happen immediately, but the Caribbean will shine once again – perhaps even brighter than before – as restless vacationers make up for lost time.