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TORONTO — This will not be a typical winter in the Caribbean by any means. With Canada’s newly extended quarantine measure still in place, reduced flights to the region, and a global pandemic that continues to impose travel restrictions around the world, many Canadians are asking themselves, “Should I stay, or should I go?”
Of course, the choice to travel at this time is deeply personal. But since reopening its tourism sector in June and implementing strict health and safety protocols across the region, the Caribbean is spreading the word that not only is it open for business, it’s also doing everything it can to ensure the safety and well-being of all visitors.
Speaking with Travelweek, Neil Walters, Secretary General of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), credits the region’s swift action taken in the early days of the pandemic for avoiding the widespread outbreak seen in other regions like Europe and the Americas.
“The early closing of international borders, country lockdowns, rigorous surveillance, the adherence to measures such as the wearing of face masks and social distancing, helped keep local spread in check and led to containment,” he says. “With the gradual reopening of borders, Caribbean governments have introduced strict protocols, which they continue to review regularly, all with the safety and well-being of residents and visitors in mind.”
It goes without saying that the recovery of the tourism sector is paramount to lives and livelihoods across the region. Like all destinations around the world, the Caribbean has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to a 57% drop in tourist arrivals between January and June compared to the same period last year. This has resulted in an estimated 50%-60% fall in tourist spend, a devastating outcome for islands that heavily rely on tourism.
The road to recovery will be a long one, for all destinations, but it’s Walters’ hope that travel agents will play a key role in generating bookings, relaying key information and boosting client confidence to once again travel.
“In this environment, the Caribbean, like any other destination, will have to rely on its travel partners to help it recover from what has arguably been the worst six months in Caribbean tourism’s history,” he says. “Travel agents typically send a large number of their clients to the Caribbean annually and they invest a considerable amount of time in acquiring knowledge of the region and its culture. Therefore, it is important to maintain relationships with them, to improve their knowledge and access to information, and to continue to work with them however possible during these very trying times.”
Referencing Canada specifically, Walters adds: “The role of travel agents will be significant in our recovery, especially in the Canadian market where the majority of Caribbean sales still go through the retail travel agent. There are too many variables right now that are not always straightforward, and travel agents can add the personal touch and assist potential visitors to choose the Caribbean destination that is most suitable for their needs. We are grateful for the job they do and the effort they put into keeping up with the changes.”
To read the full article, including winter updates and expectations from Air Canada and Sunwing, click here.