While travel advisories have been placed on several Caribbean destinations due to the increase in COVID-19 cases, attributed to the highly contagious Delta variant, a leading tourism executive has countered that travel to the region is safe because of effective health safety measures and a continued commitment to protect employees and visitors.
Vanessa Ledesma, acting CEO and director general of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), said that there has been no indication that the increase in travel to the region over the past several months has contributed to any significant spread of the virus.
“According to contact tracing analysis provided by several of the region’s destinations which are monitoring this, the level of COVID-19 transmission between residents and visitors has been negligible,” said Ledesma, who added that testing of departing travelers returning to major source markets has shown insignificant positivity rates.
The travel trade association veteran believes that travel warnings based on COVID-19 positivity levels can be misleading. “We have gone to great lengths to produce the safest possible corridors in our tourism-related communities,” she said, adding that “Caribbean travel is safe and continues to get safer.”
Ledesma shared that the Caribbean’s commitment to health safety started long before the beginning of the pandemic, and its multi-agency collaborative approach helped to jumpstart the training of nearly 8,000 of the region’s tourism industry supervisors, managers and owners.
Early in 2020, CHTA locked arms with the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), and the Global Tourism Resiliency and Crisis Management Centre (GTRCMC) to form the COVID-19 Caribbean Tourism Task Force. Recognizing that the Caribbean is the world’s most tourism-dependent region, a priority was placed on establishing protocols to ensure that interpersonal interactions within tourism communities and between members of the tourism community and visitors were as safe as possible.
Next on the agenda for the regional organizations is to continue managing the pandemic’s risks and rebuild the region’s economic mainstay by protecting lives and livelihoods. Speeding the momentum of vaccinations throughout the Caribbean in the upcoming weeks is part and parcel of the process, said Ledesma, who congratulated governments for prioritizing vaccines for travel-and tourism-related employees. She warned, however, that “The pace of recovery still rests in the hands of the public, and we encourage all employees who are able to be vaccinated to do so, to help fast-track the region’s recovery.”
“The people of the Caribbean can control their own destiny, accelerate our recovery, and help to get our people back to work faster, while generating the revenue our governments desperately need to provide basic services,” said Nicola Madden-Greig, CHTA’s first vice president, chair of its Advocacy Committee and a Jamaican hotelier.
“There is no question that the rate of vaccination within the tourism and related communities is higher than the national averages, and we know that vaccination provides that extra level of protection for our team members and their families,” Madden-Greig said, while pointing to efforts by many Caribbean hotels to assist health authorities with administering vaccines to tourism employees, who, along with essential workers, were given priority.
She applauded the work of CARPHA, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), CARICOM (Caribbean Community) and Caribbean governments which have placed high priority on securing vaccines: “We’ve been advised that vaccines are now readily available throughout the Caribbean, so there is little excuse for those who are able to receive one not to do so.”
“A number of destinations in our region rely on tourism for more than 70% of their GDP and over 50% of employment. That is what makes it deserving of special consideration for vaccines,” she said.
Despite the challenges that the Delta variant has presented to global travel, the Caribbean’s industry performance numbers have been among the best in the world. CHTA’s data partner ForwardKeys, which tracks air travel globally, indicates that through Aug. 31, the Caribbean and Mexico have been reliable destinations for international visitors, with seven of the world’s top airlift performers coming from the region. Hotel occupancy rates for the Caribbean, while still below 2019’s strong performance, increased to 53.6% in July 2021 from 19.5% the year before according to CHTA Strategic Partner STR, which gathers global hotel performance data.
While advance bookings have slowed globally, demand for travel to the Caribbean, this upcoming winter is strong as indicated by advance bookings, buoyed by flexible cancellation policies and travel insurance as added assurances to give travelers confidence.
While most of the region’s 30-plus destination offerings have similar travel and health safety protocols, variations can be reviewed at https://bit.ly/3lEOnOS.