Gay Nagle Myers
Gay Nagle Myers

Here's some good news from the islands, sort of.

As Caribbean tourism destinations continue their long journey towards the new normal in the Covid era, figures from this summer show a slow but steady uptick in arrivals, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO).

To be sure, tourist arrivals continue to lag pre-pandemic numbers, but visitor numbers slowly increased from one million in April to 1.2 million in May to 1.5 million in June, according to CTO's research department.

Factors contributing to the increase included the easing of some travel restrictions and an increase in airlift.

"These are encouraging signs that the hard work our member countries have put into adapting to the changing environment of the pandemic is beginning to pay dividends," said Neil Walters, CTO's acting secretary general.

"Even as we embrace a recovery mindset, we must continue to be mindful of the challenges we currently face and the potential challenges a dynamic situation like the pandemic can present," he said, adding that "the road to recovery in the region is not smooth."

Overall, from January through June 2021, international tourist arrivals to the Caribbean reached 6.6 million, down 12% over the same period in 2020 and more than 60% from 2019.

(The 2020 six-month period includes the first months of 2020, before Covid lockdowns sent into effect, and June, when some of the destinations began to reopen.)

Hotels on the rebound

Hotels and resorts, too, began to see upticks in occupancy. The summer travel season, helped by growing vaccination rates around the world, enabled some Caribbean hotels to pick up steam in their road to recovery, according to STR.

Destinations with hotel occupancies near or above 2019 numbers include the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. The USVI reported an occupancy level of 73.4% through August, which was 8.4% higher than the same period in 2019, while Puerto Rico reported 64.9% occupancy level, pretty close to the 2019 comparable of 68.1%, STR said.

Jamaica

One of the bright spots in the arrivals picture is Jamaica, which has welcomed more than 1.3 million visitors since the country reopened its borders in June 2020, with estimated earnings of $1.7 billion, according to Edmund Bartlett, its minister of tourism.

Its figures through September include approximately 1.2 million stopover visitors and 8,381 cruise passengers, from cruise ships that resumed in mid-August after a 16-month hiatus.

Further signaling the continued rebound of tourism to Jamaica, both American Airlines and Southwest along with Expedia are seeing an increase in demand in the coming weeks and months.

"American, Southwest and Expedia are all critical partners for Jamaica's tourism sector," said Bartlett. "Confidence in growth for our tourism remains strong, and we will maintain our Jamaica Cares health and safety protocols, including our Resilient Corridors, to ensure a robust winter season."

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