With the 2021 summer season under way, there is increasing evidence in the marketplace that pent-up demand is roaring back much earlier and at a much quicker pace than forecasters had predicted. At the same time, the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) is encouraged by the data from our member countries, who have worked tirelessly to contain the coronavirus and reopen their economies.
Although on the surface, a 60 per cent decline in the first quarter of 2021, compared to the same period last year, may not seem encouraging, a closer examination would suggest that the Caribbean is beginning to reverse the slide which began at the end of March 2020.
This is being demonstrated by a decrease in the levels of decline which the Caribbean has been recording for the past fifteen months. The first quarter of 2020 was the last period of regular levels of travel, when 7.3 million international overnight visitors (tourist arrivals) visited the region. In January and February 2021, arrivals to the region declined by just over 71 per cent when compared to the same two months last year. However, the 16.5 per cent drop in March 2021 compared to March 2020 is an indication of a level of reversal of the trend of declining numbers of tourist arrivals.
The data collected from twelve destinations reporting tourist arrivals for April 2021 shows that each of these destinations registered growth, when compared to April 2020, when tourism activity was curtailed globally. Similarly, tourist arrivals bounced back in the destinations reporting data for May. It must be pointed out, however, that the number of stay-over visitors is still below the corresponding levels in 2019.
Recent statements made by key aviation players for whom the Caribbean is an important market, have been encouraging. During our recent series of online discussions, both the CEO of British Airways, Sean Doyle, and the VP of sales for the Caribbean at American Airlines, Christine Valls, spoke of the high levels of interest in travel to the region. In fact, Ms. Valls indicated that the Caribbean has been booming for American Airlines, with an average 60 per cent load factor by late May 2021, and that the airline planned to have more daily flights to the region this summer than it did in 2019. American Airlines told the CTO this week that it added five new routes to the Caribbean this summer, with a sixth to be added in November – and will serve 35 destinations in the Caribbean.
Based on these indicators, the CTO is guardedly optimistic about the prospects for summer travel, and for the rest of the year into 2022.
It is recognised that any optimism must be tempered by the fact that new COVID-19 cases are rising rapidly in both the UK and the US, two of the Caribbean’s major source markets. These are signs that the virus remains a major threat which can quickly reverse any progress we have made.
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