Gay Nagle Myers
I zoomed out but learned a lot from online meetings over the past 15 months.
The meetings told the story of the terrifying pace of Covid and its relentless impact on the Caribbean in 2020 – and now the success of vaccines and the encouraging pace of booking in 2021.
This recovery is measured in small steps and large steps. In the last two weeks alone, significant measures at several destinations speak of this.
Puerto Rico has reopened its bars with 50% capacity inside and no restrictions on the “chinchorros” outside where the locals congregate; Curacao lifted his nightly curfewwhich had been in force for more than a year; Vaccinated travelers in St. Lucia can now book rental cars, explore local shops and dine in more restaurants, and have the borders in St. Barts reopened to fully vaccinated travelers.
As restrictions lift, demand is rising, airlines are adding flights, hotels and restaurants are reopening, vendors are displaying their wares in craft markets, and island tours are filling up.
Zooms aren’t just talk; Graphics and diagrams also tell stories. One graphic caught my eye during a Zoom webinar earlier this month for the Caribbean Hotels and Tourism Association entitled “Tourism Recreational Activities and Activities”. It showed answers to this question to CHTA members: When do you expect your company to recover financially from the effects of the pandemic?
Fourteen percent said by December this year; 27% said by December 2022 and 19% said by December 2023, which led Frank Comito, CHTA advisor and former general manager of the association, to put it bluntly. “We have to shorten the recovery period.”
The effects of Covid-19 in the Caribbean are staggering, as more than two million jobs were lost in the travel and tourism sectors last year and international arrivals in 2020 were 68% lower than in 2019, according to the CHTA.
“This can all be mitigated by the return of safer travel,” Comito said.
Hotel occupancy and prices in the Caribbean
From that Zoom meeting, I learned that STR reported in May that more than 90% of hotels in the area had opened and that occupancy was 36.9% in April, up from 31% the previous month.
“More importantly, the ADR was $ 245 in April 2021, up from $ 235 in April 2019,” Comito said.
Another graphic from STR showed that the USVI topped the occupancy category at 81%, followed by Turks and Caicos Islands, Puerto Rico, Cancun and Aruba.
Investor interest has not waned, with the Dominican Republic reporting more than 6,000 rooms in the pipeline, just 2,000 fewer than before the pandemic.
What is holding back some travelers
There are plenty of other stats and data to suggest a recovery in the Caribbean, but what seems to be keeping some travelers from actually hitting the Book Now button is concerns about resort staff vaccination rates.
During the webinar, Conrad Wagner, general manager of Calabash Grenada, a luxury boutique hotel owned by Relais & Chateau, said 47 of its 50 employees who are in direct contact with guests were stabbed.
“I would like to announce that all 50 are tormented,” said Wagner. “Those who didn’t have very strong reasons why they weren’t getting the vaccine. I’m not someone who makes them strong, but I told them they need to get tested every two weeks, which may be enough to “convince the reluctant.”
A St. Lucia resort is considering having vaccinated employees wear white wristbands to identify their status with guests and to send a not-so-subtle message to the unvaccinated staff.
As post-Covid continues to develop in the Caribbean, it is evident that a year without travel has been a terrible one for the region. But I also realize that the online meetings and webinars provided valuable information that was crucial in planning the recreation of tourism.
Now that we are seeing the resurgence, I hope to do my own zoom – on a plane to a white (or pink) sand Caribbean beach.