Insights into the future of Caribbean travel
by: Ann Ruppenstein
Looking ahead to the recovery of the region, Pablo Torres, the president of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), points to the past.
“We need to be inspired by our own resiliency — looking to places like Anguilla, St. Maarten, Cancun, the Virgin Islands, The Bahamas — those global destinations struck with natural disrupters over the past 10 years, which bounced back quickly and better,” he said. “We always come back and we always come back better than in the past. Today. there is much to be hopeful about.”
Prior to the pandemic, the Caribbean was in the midst of nearly a decade of unprecedented tourism growth and transformation fuelled by new developments and increased connectivity.
“In 2019, we had over 31 million overnight visitors and another 30 million cruise visitors. At the start of 2020, the Caribbean had over 30,000 new hotel rooms under development… as we come out of the pandemic, the number has barely shifted, now at 29,000,” Torres shared at the recent Caribbean Travel Marketplace. “While the pandemic disrupted Caribbean tourism and we will feel the impact for several years, we believe the disruption will prove to be an interruption as the region’s core strength will continue on a long-term growth and development trajectory.”
In spite of the pandemic, Vanessa Ledesma, acting CEO & director general, CHTA pointed out its destinations have recovered quickly in terms of connectivity.
“We’re seeing that the Caribbean is more accessible than it was before,” she said.
In addition, Marketplace chair Karen Whitt, the vice-president marketing and brand development for the Hartling Group, reports The Sands, The Palms and The Shore Club resorts in Turks and Caicos, are seeing remarkably high occupancy rates for this time of year.
“Looking forward, forecasts and projections are looking very strong, particularly for the summer. The immediate coming months are really filling up nicely with very high occupancies and even into the winter we’re seeing the confidence is back,” she said. “We’re seeing a combination of very last minute bookings like we’ve never seen in the past but also there is that forward planning. For example, best of season is really booking up already into Q1. As confidence grows, the traditional booking patterns, which tend to be 30-60 days out, are starting to trickle in, but right now the biggest booking pattern is the last minute bookings.”
Another positive sign for the recovery of the Caribbean is that there’s also been an increase in longer stays.
“Not only are they booking more spontaneously, we’re also seeing them booking for a longer length of stay,” said Frank Comito, special advisor & former CEO/director general, CHTA. “For example, the Dominican Republic’s length of stay is going up from eight to 10 nights.”
On the topic of vaccine passports, he noted the organization adheres to the position of the World Travel & Tourism Council that vaccine passports shouldn’t be a limiting factor in travel.
“It can be an added vehicle for destinations to utilize but it should not be restricted to that,” he said.
Comito announced that the vaccination rates for the Caribbean are parallel to levels in continental Europe with the Cayman Islands for example achieving 100% vaccination rates.
“We have quite a few destinations that are in excess of 28% for vaccination rates. We’re exceeding expectations,” he said noting that the rollout is expected to accelerate with the help of COVAX.