In what resembled speed dating on steroids, 17 Caribbean destinations delivered rapid-fire, 20-minute updates last week during a presentation that covered entry protocols, airlift, cruise news, hotel developments, tourism products, hotel developments, vaccination numbers and winter season projections.
It was the virtual side to what had been Caribbean Tourism Organization's in-person State of the Industry Conference in New York in past years. This year the venue was Zoom, and Covid the unwelcome guest that has long overstayed its visit.
The overriding message that resonated throughout most of the presentations was that the past 18 months have required a hard Caribbean pivot to the reality of lockdowns, curfews, confusing and changing entry protocols, CDC travel advisories, job losses, revenue deficits, vaccine hesitancy, low arrival numbers and hotel occupancy, empty cruise ports and airports.
Add a couple of hurricanes, an earthquake and a volcanic eruption to that mix, as well.
I so admire this region and its people in the tourism industry. Yes, the news has been bleak, but the overall picture does look a bit brighter, the communications are clearer, the hard work, the training sessions and the on-island vaccine campaigns seem to be paying off.
St. Maarten has seen an upward trend in arrivals since June, according to May-Ling Chun, its director of tourism.
"We had 80,000 air arrivals this summer, hotel occupancies averaged between 50% and 58% in July and August, and we're getting there," she said.
On Curacao, 70% of people over 16 are fully vaccinated, and 77% 16 and over have had their first shot, according to Paul Pennicook, CEO of the Curacao Tourist Board.
"We had 30,842 stayover visitors in August, which was 79% of our visitor total for the month of August 2019," he said.
Statia's director of tourism Charles Lindo reported that the destination use the Covid shutdown "to manicure our tourism product. Most roads are now pothole-free, we have a new airport tower and 50% of the population of 3,000 is fully vaxxed."
Barbados has "done an audit of our tourism attractions, restaurants, bars, taxis and beaches to check for safety and cleanliness," said tourism minister Lisa Cummings.
"Many of our hotels, inns and villas have been upgraded and refreshed, and our Global Citizens long-stay program has netted applications from 5,000 people, including more than 1,100 families," she said.
In French St. Martin, the lolos (local grill huts) are open, as are many of the restaurants, according to Aide Neuman, its director of tourism. The Taste Me Saint Martin Culinary Festival to showcase local chefs and the island's culinary heritage is set for Nov. 13 to 30.
"More than 75% of hotel workers are vaccinated; visitor arrivals in July and August exceeded numbers for the same time period in 2019," said St. Lucia's tourism minister Ernest Hilare.
"Our adventure trails took a hit from the La Soufriere volcanic eruption on April 11, but most have reopened," said Glen Beache, CEO of the St. Vincent and Grenadines Tourism Authority.
"We're expecting 224 cruise calls this season, and passengers will be able to explore the island on guided tours with certified operators," he said.
Grenada plans to launch a Remote Work program in October for long-stay visitors, including family groups and concierge services to help with the move to Grenada, according to Cherise Hamid, sales and marketing director for the Grenada Tourism Authority.
"More than 90% of our tourism workers and 50% of our market vendors are vaxxed," she said.
"We've been waiting for this for a long time," said Alison Ross, Anguilla spokesperson, in reference to the launch of American Airlines' nonstop, twice-weekly, year-round service from Miami on Dec. 11.
Ross reported that 60% of Anguilla's population of 15,000 has been fully vaccinated.
"Sept. 14, 2021 was a wonderful day for St. Kitts when the Celebrity Equinox docked at Port Zante pier with 1,147 passengers and 918 crew," said Raquel Brown, CEO of the St. Kitts Tourism Authority.
"During the 2021-2022 cruise season, we will continue our progressive journey to rebuild tourism safely in a manner that allows us to continue our tradition as a marquee port and reap economic benefits for all," Brown said.