“Across the Caribbean, the impact of COVID-19 on the travel and tourism industry has been very apparent,” the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) said in a performance report, looking at 2020. The worst period was from April to mid-June (right after much of the world went on lockdown), when “there was literally no activity” in some destinations. In all, 2020 saw a 65.5 percent drop in tourist arrivals to the Caribbean.
This low period, according to the CTO was characterized by empty hotels and restaurants, deserted attractions, shut borders, laid-off workers, grounded airlines and crippled cruise lines. Even after mid-June, the number of visitors did not reached levels “even closely comparable to those being experienced prior to March 2020.” Currently, some destinations remain closed to visitors, with limited airlift primarily for repatriation of locals and cargo. In addition, cruise lines are largely non-operational due to a ban imposed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Data received from CTO member countries revealed that tourist arrivals to the region in 2020 fell to just over 11 million, a declined of 65.5 percent when compared to the record 32 million tourist visits in 2019. Still, this was better than the world average of 73.9 percent decline during the same period. This lower rate of decline in the region can be attributed to two key factors, according to the CTO: A significant portion of the Caribbean’s winter season (January to mid-March 2020) saw average levels of tourist arrivals when compared to 2019, and the fact that the busy (summer) season in other regions coincided with the period where there was very limited international travel.
A period of virtually no tourism began in mid-March, with arrivals down by 97.3 percent—but tourists began visiting again in June as the sector began to reopen. The fall-off in stayover arrivals continued through to September, when a gradual reversal began and continued up to December.
Like stayover arrivals, cruise was buoyed by the performance in the first three months of 2020, particularly the month of February, when there was a 4.2 percent rise in visits. This was then followed by no activity for the remainder of the year as ships remained non-operational. The overall result was a 72 percent slide to 8.5 million cruise visits, when compared to 30 million visits in 2019.
The limited travel beyond the first two and a half months of the year, resulted in difficulties in compiling visitor expenditure numbers in 2020. Based on information derived from international partners, such as the World Tourism Organization, and the limited reporting by Caribbean countries, the CTO estimates that across the region visitor expenditure declined by 60 to 80 percent, in line with the decline in stayover and cruise arrivals.
Preliminary data indicates that the average length of stay for 2020 remained at roughly seven nights, the same as in in 2019.
The Caribbean’s performance in 2021 will depend largely on the success of the authorities in the marketplace and the region in combatting, containing and controlling the virus. Already, there are some encouraging signs like the vaccine rollout taking place in North America, Europe and the Caribbean.
This, the CTO warns, must be tempered by some other factors such as: Lockdowns in key source markets, which are expected to continue into the second quarter; international travel confidence not expected to pick up until the summer 2021; a steep fall in the number of people planning to travel abroad; and the possible requirement by the authorities in key markets for their citizens to vaccinate before travelling abroad.
With these factors taken into consideration, the CTO’s initial forecast is for a 20 percent rise in arrivals in 2021, with a similar increase in visitor expenditure, when compared to 2020.