BARBADOS — Neil Walters, Acting Secretary General of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), says that while COVID-19 has negatively impacted the Caribbean from an economic standpoint, from a virus transmission standpoint the region has held up fairly well.
Now, he says, the Caribbean is heading into 2021 “armed with a new set of lessons learnt and with the proof that the Caribbean tourism sector along with its counterpart in public health has the collaborative power to restart, reenergize and rebuild tourism in the Caribbean stronger and more resilient, and ready to face the next challenge.”
The region was able to control the spread of the virus within its local populations and by the last quarter of 2020, most of the countries in the Caribbean had reopened their borders and the majority of reopened countries had also started accepting commercial travel and visitors to their shores.
“Experts have indicated, that based on the results of past pandemics in our history, a two-year period of recovery to return to ‘normalcy’ can be expected,” says Walters in his New Year’s statement. “Based on that prediction we can expect ‘normal’ conditions beyond December 2021. Indeed, our concept of ‘normal’ is compounded by the view that the measures we have implemented to control the spread of the virus may stay with us for an indefinite period.”
Walters says that while the pandemic has threatened the Caribbean tourism sector, it has also created the opportunity to assess the sector and implement actions which have been difficult during the last 20 to 30 years of mass tourism: “The pandemic has identified one critical common factor, the need for change; the need to think outside the box and identify different ways of doing things.”
He adds that since the falloff in tourism activity in March 2020, all tourism policy makers, destination management organizations and other tourism stakeholders have spent time critically analyzing and rethinking the way they manage tourism in their individual destinations. This has led to a spirit of greater cooperation and collaboration which was needed in the sector but which has now been clearly shown as critical to the sector’s future and its success, says Walters.
Most importantly, the CTO’s collective efforts to date have positioned the Caribbean, from a global standpoint, in this pandemic, as a region which is healthy and safe for travel, he says. “It is a position which we must defend, while we make every effort to improve on the other facets of the visitor experience.”
Just 12 months ago, in the CTO’s New Year message for 2020, “we were lauding ourselves for recovering in 2019, after the 2017 hurricanes and for exceeding the world average for tourism growth.” Walters notes that while those traditional metrics may paint a different picture this year, “we in the Caribbean can still be pleased with our efforts. This time we have proven ourselves leaders, via the collaboration of tourism and public health to create protocols for the reopening of the sector.”
Walters ends his New Year’s message with a call to action, and plenty of gratitude. “We still cannot rest on our laurels, but continue to use the momentum created by our efforts in 2020 and the resilience of our people to rebuild the tourism sector like all other sectors to full functionality again, and buttress it against all future challenges which, although we pray otherwise, are sure to come,” he says.
“On behalf of the CTO Council of Ministers and Commissioners of Tourism, Board of Directors and the staff of the CTO, I want to say thank you to all of our partners and stakeholders, both regionally and internationally, for your collaborative efforts in 2020, and we look forward to further collaboration in 2021. I wish for us all a year filled with health, blessings, growth, and prosperity for this region we love.”