Travel & Tourism

Will Caribbean Tourism Get Back To Pre-Pandemic Levels Anytime Soon?

By Paul E. Pennicook

  • Date
    March 24, 2022
  • Website

On March 11 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of the coronavirus disease known as Covid-19 as a global pandemic. The first case of Covid-19 was identified in the USA in  January 2020, shortly thereafter, the virus was identified in the Caribbean. The impact was immediate  and devastating particularly to the Hospitality and Tourism Industry. Most countries closed borders  which led to airport closures, hotel closures and subsequently, the closure of many businesses.

Stop over visitor arrivals to the Caribbean declined 67% in 2020 when compared to 2019. The  Caribbean is one of, if not the most, tourism-dependent region in the world. This makes the resilience  and recovery of the Hospitality industry of paramount importance to the region. Organizations like the  UNWTO and the IMF were forecasting that it would take 3 to 4 years for global tourism arrivals to return  to 2019 levels.

Recovery across the region has been gradual with varying levels of growth in 2021. It is almost the end  of first quarter of 2022 and so the question is …How do things look for the Caribbean?

To partially answer that question, an analysis of stopover visitor arrivals performance for 2021 across  the region was done. Bear in mind that after the closure of many countries’ borders in 2020, there were  varying dates of reopening as well as a gradual lifting of travel restrictions. It therefore follows that the  rate of recovery varies across the region.

This performance analysis is limited to countries that achieved in 2021, close to 50% or more of 2019’s  arrivals. Only 10 countries made this list and that is less than 50% of the member countries of the  Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO). The 2021 arrival performance is also compared to 2020 arrivals  to give a further indication of rate of recovery.

As the table shows, in 2021 the United States Virgin Islands (USVI) and Puerto Rico actually exceeded  their 2019 arrivals. As far as 2020 is concerned the USVI and Puerto Rico saw a 96.7% and 108.4%  increase over 2020 respectively. St Lucia and the Bahamas’ arrivals in 2021 accounted for 47% and 49%  of their 2019 arrivals respectively. The respective increase over 2020 arrivals were 52% and 95% for St  Lucia and the Bahamas.

The top two destinations that achieved or exceeded their 2019 arrivals in 2021 - USVI and Puerto Rico,  are actually US territories which helps to explain their success in 2021. The destinations that achieved  over 70% of their 2019 arrivals in 2021 were Aruba at 72%, Dominican Republic at 77.5% and St Maarten  at 77.8%. These 3 countries may be on track to equal their 2019 arrivals in 2022. However, the other 5  countries in this list of 10, will more than likely not equal their 2019 performance until 2024 and will  only do so in 2023 if they have an exceptionally strong period of growth over the next 18 to 24 months.  The visitor arrivals of the majority of countries in the region are pacing behind the 10 countries in this  analysis and so, they are not expected to achieve their 2019 arrivals until possibly 2025.

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