Gay Nagle Myers

Gay Nagle Myers

The motivating factor for Caribbean travel these days appears to be the downward trajectory of omicron cases, prompting less hesitancy and more confidence in travelers to get out there.

With case numbers on the decline, entry regulations somewhat less restrictive, vaccines available for younger travelers and island vaccination rates on the increase, Caribbean forecasters are looking toward the full recovery of tourism.

Spoiler alert: It’s not going to happen this year.

The year 2019 is the benchmark against which the tourism rebound will be measured. That year the region recorded more than 32 million international arrivals, setting a record.

During a two-day Zoom fest two weeks ago, tourism ministers and directors from 18 Caribbean countries summarized and analyzed the Covid years of 2020 and 2021. Even as omicron continued to impact arrivals into January, many of these tourism officials sensed a light at the end of the tunnel.

It’s a long tunnel, however.

While most tourism officials were hesitant to pinpoint a specific recovery timeline, Donovan White, Jamaica’s director of tourism, was not. “We will return to 2019 pre-pandemic visitor arrival levels by Q3 2023,” he predicted.

Petra Roach, CEO of the Grenada Tourism Authority, agreed but added that “late 2023, early 2024” seemed a more realistic timeline for that destination’s recovery to reach 2019 levels.

Clive McCoy, director of tourism for the British Virgin Islands, also predicted that “the BVI won’t see pre-Covid numbers until sometime in 2023.

Islands forge ahead with tourism plans

In spite of an uncertain recovery timeline, destinations are forging ahead with developments, investments, additional room inventory, festivals and training programs for hospitality workers joining the workforce.

There was talk of ongoing hotel developments, including
Barbuda’s PLH Villas and 18-hole Tom Fazio-designed golf course, the
reopening of Trinidad’s Queen’s Beach Salybia Resort & Spa after a
$40 million renovation and a yacht/hotel/marina project overlooking
Maundy’s Bay on Anguilla.

St. Kitts is focused on
weddings and honeymoons “a strategic pillar for us,” according to St.
Kitts Tourism Authority CEO Tommy Thompson. “Antiquities and historical
elements” are the focus in Tobago; new hiking trails with ropes and
rails are planned for Montserrat; and wellness, nature and the local art
and culinary scene will take center stage in St. Maarten/St. Martin.

Caribbean festivals resume

The revival of festivals in particular is a sure sign of some return to normalcy.

Montserrat, for example, will host its 40th St. Patrick’s Festival March 12 to 19, after cancelling the event in 2021.
“We have enough confidence in our vaccination rates and our protocols to do this,” said Warren Solomon, director of tourism.

Grenada will host its Chocolate Festival May 13 to 18, St. Kitts’ Music Festival is set for June 24 to 25, the Mango Festival on Nevis takes place the first weekend in July; Antigua’s Carnival is tentatively set for July 27 to Aug. 2 and St. Lucia’s Creole Heritage celebration is on the calendar in October.

Overall, a certain energy and optimism pervaded this round of Caribbean updates, more so than the updates from tourism officials last September when Covid, lockdowns and curfews were front and center.

Ernest Hilaire, St. Lucia’s minister of tourism, summed it up best, in my opinion. “We remain committed to coexist with Covid, and we look to the future with hope.”

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