I'm Zoomed out, but I've learned a lot from online meetings over the past 15 months.
The meetings told the story of the frightening pace of Covid and its relentless impact on the Caribbean in 2020 -- and now the success of vaccines and the encouraging pace of bookings in 2021.
This recovery is measured in small steps and big steps. In just the past two weeks alone, significant measures by several destinations tell this tale.
Puerto Rico reopened its bars at 50% capacity inside and placed no restrictions at outdoor "chinchorros" where locals gather; Curacao lifted its nightly curfew, which had been in effect for more than a year; vaccinated travelers in St. Lucia can now book rental cars, explore local shops and dine at more restaurants, and the borders in St. Barts have reopened to fully vaccinated travelers.
As restrictions lift, demand builds, airlines add flights, hotels and restaurants reopen, vendors set out their wares in craft markets, island tours fill up.
Zooms aren't all talk; graphs and charts tell stories, as well. During a Zoom webinar earlier this month by the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association titled "Tourism Recovery Measures and Activities," one chart caught my eye. It showed answers from this question put to CHTA members: When do you expect your business to recover financially from the impact of the pandemic?
Fourteen percent said by this December; 27% said by December 2022 and 19% said by December 2023, which led Frank Comito, CHTA advisor and former director general of the association, to put it bluntly. "We need to shorten the recovery period."
The impact from Covid-19 in the Caribbean is staggering, with more than two million jobs lost in travel and tourism last year and a 68% decrease in international arrivals in 2020 versus 2019, according to the CHTA.
"This can all be mitigated through the return of safe travel," Comito said.
Hotel occupancy and rates up in the Caribbean
From that Zoom meeting, I learned that STR reported in May that more than 90% of the hotels in the region had opened and that April occupancy was 36.9%, up from 31% a month earlier.
"Even more important than this is that the ADR in April 2021 held at $245, higher than the $235 rate in April 2019," Comito said.
Another chart from STR showed that destinations leading the pack in the occupancy category were the USVI, at 81%, followed by Turks and Caicos, Puerto Rico, Cancun and Aruba.
Interest by investors has not dropped off, with the Dominican Republic reporting more than 6,000 rooms in the pipeline, only 2,000 rooms fewer than pre-pandemic numbers.
What holds some travelers back
There are many other stats and data that point to a Caribbean rebound, but what seems to be holding some travelers back from actually hitting the Book Now button is concern about vaccination levels by resort staffs.
During the webinar, Conrad Wagner, general manager of Calabash Grenada, a Relais & Chateau luxury boutique property, said that 47 of his 50 staff who are in direct contact with guests have been jabbed.
"I'd love to be able to report that all 50 are vaxxed," Wagner said. "Those who haven't been have very strong reasons about why they're not getting the vaccine. I'm not one to strong arm them, but I have told them they have to get tested every two weeks, which might be enough to convince the reluctant ones."
One resort in St. Lucia is considering having vaccinated staff wear white wristbands to identify their status to guests and to send a not-so-subtle message to the non-vaxxed staff.
As post-Covid continues to evolve in the Caribbean, it's obvious that a year without travel has been horrendous for the region. But it's also obvious to me that the online meetings and webinars contributed valuable information that was critical to aid in planning for the tourism recovery.
Now, as we see resurgence building, I'm hoping to do my own zooming -- on a plane to a white (or pink) sand Caribbean beach.