Two tickets back to paradise
Vanessa Ledesma, Acting CEO and Director General, Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association, talks to Travel Courier about the recovery of tourism in the region and the critical role travel advisors will play.
Let’s start on the bright side. What’s giving you hope for the future?
The demand in North America for travel to destinations close to home with warm climates and demonstrably effective public health protocols indicates the Caribbean, with our region-wide collaboration on health safety will benefit from a strong rebound.
We do believe the Caribbean, which has kept infections to a minimum, along with our people’s resilience and desire to showcase our culture and beauty to the world, will see a return of tourism to the region, faster than many parts of the world.
How are you preparing for what’s next?
Smart partnerships between governments and the private sector help identify ways and means of efficiently ramping the Caribbean tourism sector back to pre-pandemic levels by ensuring safe and secure protocols. We want our visitors to continue arriving safely and returning to their homes happy and healthy. Our hospitality sector is resilient and has been readying for a return to normalcy, undergoing extensive training in maintaining health safety protocols. Our airline partners have also been planning for the rebound.
What will be the biggest challenges to overcome in the short turn?
Getting staff in all parts of the tourism sector back to full operational readiness after being laid off for months is being addressed. There is a need to ensure our supply chains are well-oiled for arrivals, which will grow as vaccinations progress in our traditional markets. We will also work closely with our airline partners to promote our destinations, which are safe and welcoming. We will continue monitoring travel restrictions as they evolve and update our regulations and protocols accordingly. However, we are concerned about new pandemic testing rules that require travellers returning to source markets to provide proof of COVID-19 test results before their planned departures from the Caribbean. This stresses Caribbean public health systems and causes further damage to the region’s economy.
What can you tell me about the role travel advisors will play in recovery?
Travel advisors are key partners in our move back to normalcy. They are even more important because travellers, denied travel for months, will have many more questions as restrictions are lifted. Travel partners will continue to be advocates for the region and storytellers sharing the information on how regional stakeholders continue to adhere to local and regional guidelines. Therefore, travel advisors will have a critical role to play as we return to pre-pandemic levels.
Do you have anything to add?
We do not anticipate tourism immediately returning to the level we experienced before COVID-19. Strong indications of pent-up demand, the redemption of previously cancelled plans, our proximity to North America, and the appeal of our parks and natural attractions, coupled with vaccine availability, all point to a steady return likely to become more evident as we approach mid-year.
A key factor to our recovery will be assurances of health safety. Since April, we’ve worked locally, regionally and internationally with public and private sectors and health authorities to establish health safety protocols. Along with the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), our organization has trained tens of thousands of employees and has credentialed many of them with a CARPHA Tourism Health Safety Stamp. The stamp was developed with CARPHA and endorsed by CHTA and the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO). This is a unique health-tourism partnership. The recommended health safety protocols we’ve put in place have been recognized as among the best in the world by organizations such as the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), whose stamp is issued to those who participate in our training. We have promoted the training and will continue to do so to provide necessary assurances.