Skift Take

The region's tourism vulnerability to the pandemic will continue to impact its full economic recovery as source markets increasingly restrict travel due to a fast spreading and little-understood Omicron variant. Now is the time for a good number of islands to double down on their lagging vaccine access and uptake.

The Caribbean region, being among the most tourism-dependent in the world, was predicted to be among the hardest hit by the pandemic’s global fallout. The World Travel & Tourism Council had projected the economic impact of Covid on the islands to result in a $42 billion loss in gross domestic product and 1.9 million jobs lost in 2020. 

Those numbers from the pandemic’s first year weren’t far off the mark, but the region has also recovered faster than any other part of the world in 2021. Caribbean travel and tourism’s contribution to gross domestic product is expected to rise more than 47 percent this year, while the global economy will see a 37 percent increase in contribution from travel and tourism. Advanced bookings of hotel stays and airline ticketing for 2022 also point to a potential recovery of more than 70 percent of 2019 levels.

That was the gist of the message the Caribbean Tourism Hotel Association shared on Wednesday during its 2022 winter outlook report. 

“We are recovering and we are recovering well,” said Nicola Madden-Greig, president of the Caribbean Tourism Hotel Association, adding that the region is among the safest to visit with a Covid positivity rate averaging well under the World Health Organization’s recommended five percent limit.  

But the forecast also comes on the heels of the Omicron variant’s emergence in late November and the outlook doesn’t account for the impact and repercussions from a potential fresh round of global travel restrictions, which are unfolding by the day in source markets such as Canada and Europe as infections rise at a rapid pace.

In fact, ticketing to the Caribbean experienced a drop for a handful of top destinations following the Omicron announcement, data on holiday travel ticketing from ForwardKeys shows.

Destinations including the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Aruba and the Bahamas all experienced a decrease in bookings between late November and early December, as compared to 2019 levels. 

At least nine destinations are expected to surpass 2019 levels between December 17 and January 2 as of current Christmastime international flight confirmations. But it’s too early to determine how much Omicron might impact those plans and additional flights going into 2022 given the fluidity of the pandemic, particularly if re-entry rules mount for travelers or if the variant proves harmful to the region’s destinations with low Covid vaccination rates. 

As governments in major source markets such as Canada, which strongly advised against overseas travel on Wednesday, and parts of Europe continue to weigh tougher restrictions amid a rapidly spreading variant, the Caribbean’s tourism rebound in 2022 hangs in the balance.

Tags: caribbean, coronavirus recovery

Photo credit: The Caribbean ranks among the fastest recovering tourism regions but Omicron could threaten its ongoing recovery into 2022. Ted Murphy / Flickr Commons