Gay Nagle Myers
Gay Nagle Myers

Crises spawned by Covid-19 have affected borders, bookings and businesses around the world. And the tourism-dependent Caribbean region is dealing with fallout on several fronts, including the loss of arrivals, island shutdowns, high unemployment and the surge in U.S. cases that is delaying U.S. visitors' entry to several islands.

A report conducted by George Washington University's International Institute of Tourism Studies and the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) uncovered another issue: the need for additional sources of funding to help Caribbean tourism withstand future crises, such as future Covid waves.

The study, which took place from May 6 to 22, examined the effects of Covid-19 on destination management and marketing organizations in CTO's 24 member countries. The study found that coronavirus affected the financial health of tourism organizations. Nearly all of the destinations that were polled either had had or expected to have cuts to their operating budgets.

"This is an ominous signal," the report said, adding that destinations would have to do more with less, especially in regard to marketing.

One recommendation was to consider diversifying funding sources, which are mainly based on lodging and cruise taxes.

In addition to funding issues, the 26-page report stressed the need for effective crisis management and communications to aid in recovery from the economic fallout of Covid and its impact on tourism.

Seleni Matus, the institute's executive director, said that it was essential for destination organizations "to work with local governments and all parties involved, from hotels, tour operators and restaurants to local residents and tourists, because immediate investment is urgently needed."

The report reviewed websites and social media platforms of various destination organizations and industry groups to understand the tourism industry's response to Covid-19.

In general, most of the websites featured information on travel restrictions, border closures, airport and seaport closures, curfews and measures to stem the transmission of the virus. As the crisis progressed, 88% of the destinations implemented campaigns through videos, virtual activities such as cocktail-making sessions and interactive contests with complimentary trips to winners, all designed to encourage future travel.

Budget cuts during the pandemic impacted marketing spend for more than half of the member countries surveyed, many of whom shifted resources to less-costly strategies, such as use of a simple hashtag to keep the destination top of mind with travelers: for example, #AnguillaFromAfar, #SeeYouSoonNevis and #DreamingOfTobago.

Destinations launched community support campaigns, such as St. Lucia's relief initiatives for its front-line workers and Jamaica's Together We Stand telethon to support  its medical and front-line personnel.

By early May, the majority of destination organizations had made good progress on their recovery plans, according to the survey. Overall findings indicated that while many CTO member countries had a crisis plan that covered health crises, the existing plans "have only been marginally useful in light of the scale and severity of this pandemic."

"Steps should be taken to advocate for financial support of destinations so they can remain strong and can help to lead tourism recovery and rebuilding efforts," the survey said, warning that "without substantial financial assistance, tourism businesses that are operating at less than full capacity will be challenged to remain in business through 2020."

Faye Gill, CTO's director of membership services, had this to say: "This study brings into sharp focus the impact that the pandemic has had on the very institutions that will be tasked with leading the recovery of the tourism sector at the national level." Gill recommended that tourism recovery plans consider resourcing the destination organizations "to adequately meet the demands that will define this period." Copies of the report are available at onecaribbean.org.

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