Visitation to the Caribbean was down nearly 50% for the first six months of this year, but better times are ahead, Caribbean tourism officials say.
Speaking to the media on a Zoom call on Wednesday, Caribbean Tourism Organization Secretary General (acting) Neil Walters said the first half of 2020 saw visits from Canada fall by 43.8%, while visits from the U.S. dropped by 60.1%.
One CTO official said some hotels fell to less than three per cent occupancy at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. But Frank Comito, CEO and Director General of the Caribbean Hotels and Tourism Association, said there are numerous positive signs on the horizon.
Occupancy in the region is hovering around 20% now, he said, which is in the range of what officials expected for the summer. Some hotels are reporting 70% of rooms sold for later this year, but Comito said he expects most hotels will have 30-40% occupancy for the fall, and that they could be at 40-70% for the first part of 2021.
“We’re seeing a lot of advance bookings,” Comito said. “The real good news is after Christmas. People are shopping, and they are searching.”
The CHTA and Caribbean hotels are offering health insurance, which probably helps, he said.
Dr. Lisa Indar, head of the Regional Tourism and Health Program and Foodborne Diseases at the Caribbean Public Healthy Agency, said the region has done well during the pandemic, with a rate of infection that’s far below the U.S. and below the UK, and just a little higher than Canada.
Indar said the evidence suggests that almost all new infections are coming from Caribbean residents, and not visitors to the various destinations
Caribbean residents have been exploring their own countries this summer and visiting neighbouring ones as well, which has helped. The next step is to get more short-haul international visitors.
“The Caribbean, I believe, will come back,” Comito said.
There are still obstacles ahead, of course. The cruise industry has yet to return to the Caribbean in any significant way, and one official said he recently saw a survey of U.S. travellers that said 60% of Americans won’t travel until there’s a vaccine.
Walters said at least 20 Caribbean destinations are open in some way, but not all for commercial travel just yet.