The growing threat of a COVID-19 global pandemic is undoubtedly disruptive for citizens and visitors alike, as tourism in the Caribbean is considered one of the hardest hits by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Since the sector is experiencing a rapid and sharp drop in demand, there is a need to reset regional airline and reduce reliance on international travellers.
“I think that we really need to focus a little bit on what it is we can do for ourselves within the Caribbean, because it’s going to take a while before all of those jets start flying — and not just the need for the conditions to be brought under control in Europe and the United States and Canada — but you have those jets sitting down for weeks or months at a time and there is going to be a significant effort to get them back air worthy again,” said Development specialist Arvel Grant.
“There’s all kinds of shutdown facilities that will have to be put in place to get so many large aircraft out and the main challenge to getting them back up is going to be equally strenuous, so I think what we really have to focus on is this,” he continued.
“We must find some way of having normal and socioeconomic activities within these societies or they will collapse and the easiest way to begin anything like tourism is to see whether or not the political influence exists within the Caricom states to allow LIAT, Caribbean Airlines and those other regional carriers to begin to fly within the country and see whether that is the kickstart that will generally suggest that we are ready, Arvel Grant said.
According to the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) the international tourist arrivals will be down by 20% to 30% in 2020 when compared with 2019 figures, equivalent to a loss of 300 to 450 US$ billion in international tourism receipts (exports) – almost one third of the US$ 1.5 trillion generated globally.
Continuous efforts are ongoing in order to implement effective policy responses to preserve the sector and trigger international coordination, as meant by the two most recent meetings between G20 and EU Tourism Ministers on April 24th and 27th respectively.
Recent experience suggests that the Caribbean has an extraordinary resilience and ability to bounce back from a variety of crises. In recent years the region has demonstrated its ability to recover from economic downturns, hurricanes, climate change related phenomena such as sargassum and beach erosion, and for example reputational damage on social media caused by crime and visitor related incidents.
It is paramount for policy makers to use the COVID-19 outbreak to improve crisis management strategies and strengthen international and domestic co-ordination mechanisms and mutual learning across regions and tourism sub-sectors to rethink a more sustainable and resilient tourism system and to respond united to any future shocks.