How has Covid-19 impacted the Caribbean's peak season? Has Covid ended it forever, or at least for the near term?
These questions were tackled during a recent Caribbean Tourism Organization webinar that explored the effects of the pandemic on travel to the region.
It was just one year ago that the first case of Covid in the region was diagnosed in the Dominican Republic, inadvertently brought in by a traveler from Italy. He was hospitalized and treated, and he eventually recovered and returned to Italy. By then cases were spiraling in many countries -- and we all know how that story has played out.
Planning for the return of tourism in the Covid-19 era is a complicated affair. In sunnier times the Caribbean tourism sector would prepare for the high season as the end of winter approached in the main markets.
Things are way different now. Arrivals froze in 2020, and only now are there some stirrings of a return to travel.
There was general consensus among the panelists on five key factors: the luxury segment is leading the recovery; last-minute travel currently is experiencing the most promising growth; the quarantine measures upon arrival on some islands are a definite buzzkill for travelers who have only a week to vacation; island governments must ease some of their entry restrictions or the Caribbean could lose potential market share to Mexico and Hawaii; and Q4 and 2022 should signal that travel is well on the road to a strong recovery.
"People want to be safe when they finally do travel," said Colin Pegler, managing director of Resort Marketing International, a hotel and destination management company based in the U.K. "The Caribbean lends itself to social distancing. The accommodations are spacious, there are acres of space on the beaches and so many options for hiking and outdoor activities."
He predicted a surge of bookings late this year, setting the scene for a strong 2022.
A Tanzania safari camp. Photo Credit: BlueOrange Studio/Shutterstock.com
"Go big or stay home -- that's the theme many of our advisors are seeing," said Internova chief J.D. O'Hara.
The luxury segment will lead the recovery, particularly among older travelers who have been vaccinated, have money to spend and are sitting on vacation refunds or vouchers from travel plans interrupted in 2020, according to Vivian Mur, director of sales for cruise and leisure markets for Adara, a company that tracks travel trends and data for clients.
"The leisure segment will rejuvenate going forward. The business side will follow after leisure. Right now the travel situation remains fluid but hopeful as vaccine distributions continue," Mur said.
Carol Johnson, senior principal partner for TripAdvisor, reported that the short-term booking trend "is seeing the most promising growth since the beginning of the year. People want to travel. They've been cooped up for a year. Bookings 90 days out for international travel are growing the fastest they're up 50% since December."
Multigenerational travel also will stage a comeback, according to the panelists.
"People want to reconnect with loved ones. I see group travel among family members growing," Pegler said.
He also forecast a move into a vaccine passport system once people are vaccinated.
Johnson pointed out that the Caribbean has always been popular with travel advisors, "but they have to get out there and stay in front of their customers. Recovery will be staggered globally, so they must be proactive and communicate with their clients to capture bookings and rebookings."