The Caribbean continues its strong rebound from the pandemic—and fall storms. To note: Jamaica has nearly recovered all visitation this year when compared to 2019, while Puerto Rico set records.
Speaking on Bloomberg TV last week, Jamaica’s Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett said the country’s post-pandemic recovery was so strong that stayover arrivals were at 97 percent of 2019 levels while revenues were even higher—at 120 percent of 2019 earnings.
Bartlett added the island has done much better than projected in the post-pandemic recovery. “We had projected that we would reach 2019 levels in arrivals by 2023-24. We have done much better; in fact, we're likely to hit 2019 levels in the first quarter of ‘23. But the good news is that our earnings are far ahead now, and that we will reach a projected $5 billion [in annual] earnings for tourism by the end of 2023,” he said.
On the question of sustainability, Bartlett sees three central components: “One is the environment and enabling the management of the resources that you have. Because tourism is about the environment. The environment is the product. And, so, there is no product if we don't manage the environment sustainably.”
Second, the minister pointed to “the economic development of our people and the communities and the well-being of the individuals.”
The third element is community governance and enabling communities to manage, operate and be “responsive to the industry and their own requirements for social development.”
Referring to Jamaica’s ability to deal with the devastation of storms and hurricanes, Bartlett said that loss and damage from extreme weather is an important consideration not only for recovery, capacity building, mitigation and adaptation capabilities, but also, “more importantly, to be able to manage recovery and to recover quickly and to thrive thereafter.”
Elsewhere, despite the impact of Hurricane Fiona this fall, Puerto Rico’s tourism industry is on track to close the year with new records in visitation, visitor spending and jobs—signaling one of the best years in the history of this economic sector and solidifying the territory’s recovery from the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Tourism continues to lead the economic resurgence of Puerto Rico and, together, we’re setting records along the way,” said Brad Dean, CEO of Discover Puerto Rico. “Visitation, spending and employment continue to reach or exceed 2021 levels, which ... was our best year ever in Puerto Rico tourism. In comparison to other Caribbean islands and states in the U.S. mainland, Puerto Rico continues to outperform our peers.”
The milestones were, in part, reached due to the marketing approach taken by Discover Puerto Rico’s teams, coupled with the investment of $50 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds that have been integrated into efforts to promote Puerto Rico as a tourism destination.
Alisha Valentine, Discover Puerto Rico’s director of research and analytics, added that 2022 is estimated to close with a 7 percent increase in overall visitation compared to 2019, while the cruise industry attracted one of every three visitors to Puerto Rico. When compared with 2021, the increase is 10 percent.
Between January and October of this year, travelers contributed $1.345 billion to the island's lodging sector, an increase of about 30 percent. As well, labor statistics show that by October 2022 there were 91,200 jobs in the leisure and hospitality sectors—the highest number in Puerto Rico's history. Not only did job opportunities increase, but wages also rose. Demand for labor and worldwide inflation contributed to an increase of 34 percent since last year.
“It’s no coincidence that the two best years in the history of Puerto Rico tourism came when we were able to double our budget by investing one-time federal funds in tourism promotion. Unfortunately, those funds will run out after 2023, so you can be certain we are looking at ways to continue the progress that we’ve made together,” said Dean.