TORONTO — There’s a sense that the world is emerging from the worst of the pandemic, and ready to travel in earnest again. The Caribbean is ready.
Eighteen of the Caribbean’s top destinations are taking part in a two-day online event hosted by the Caribbean Tourism Organization, designed to update the trade on entry requirements, protocols, new developments, forecasts and more.
After almost two years of the pandemic, destinations are wary of making guarantees, and with good reason. But growing numbers of visitors and a sense that COVID-19 is moving from pandemic status, to endemic, has many Caribbean islands hopeful for the months to come.
Here’s a look at the updates from yesterday’s CTO briefings, with more to come tomorrow …
Saint Lucia’s Minister of Tourism, Dr. Ernest Hilaire, says Saint Lucia welcomed 52% more visitors in 2021 versus 2020, “and 76% of those were from the U.S.” Increasing numbers of Canadians will be heading to Saint Lucia thanks to flights with Sunwing, Air Canada and WestJet. Saint Lucia began welcoming back cruise lines in June 2021 and those numbers keep growing month over month too.
Currently Saint Lucia requires all adult travellers (18 years and older) and unaccompanied minors to complete and submit an online travel registration to receive Travel Authorization. Plus, all travellers 5 years and older must take a PCR test five days or less before arrival in Saint Lucia and submit the negative results to the travel registration form for review and approval. Complete details can be found here.
Requirements for visitors are reviewed frequently, says Dr. Hilaire: “We’re constantly looking for ways to make it easier for people to visit Saint Lucia.”
Asked about his expectations for 2022, Dr. Hilaire says, “we have various scenarios, as you can imagine. But all things being equal we’re expecting to be where we were in 2019.”
ANTIGUA & BARBUDA
Charmaine Spencer, sales and marketing consultant for the Antigua & Barbuda Tourism Authority, says the destination welcomed 169,469 air travellers in 2021. That was up 35% over 2020, but still down 45% compared to 2019. But overall, says Spencer, “we’re quite pleased with how our air performance has rebounded.”
Some 102 ships, primarily cruise ships, brought 83,373 visitors to the destination.
Spencer says Barbuda is a big focus for the tourism authority for 2022 and the years ahead. The tiny gem was devastated by Hurricane Irma in 2017 but has come back strong. Development continues on Barbuda’s PLH Villas and 18-hole Tom Fazio-designed golf course. Robert DeNiro’s NOBU Beach Inn is in the works. Meanwhile, on Antigua, Tamarind Hill’s 43 ocean view suites opened in November 2021, and Siboney Beach Club debuted refurbishments.
TRINIDAD & TOBAGO
Trinidad & Tobago’s borders reopened July 17, 2021. Trinidad’s ‘A Taste of Carnival’, a scaled down version of the traditional Carnival, is on now and running through the end of February. “It’s just a taste of what the real Carnival should be,” says Kurtis Rudd, CEO, Tourism Trinidad Ltd. However it’s a step up from 2021 when there was no Carnival.
In Tobago, there’s a renewed focus on the importance of tourism, says Louis E. A. Lewis, CEO, Tobago Tourism Agency. Visitors still travel to Tobago via Trinidad, however work continues on a $1.2 billion upgrade at ANR Robinson International Airport, with an eye to boosting tourism. While the proposed development in Tobago by Sandals Resorts is not going ahead, there are new properties on the way, including a 200-room Marriott-branded hotel at Rocky Point. Construction is set to begin in 2023 and finish in 2025.
St. Kitts Tourism Authority’s brand new CEO, Ellison ‘Tommy’ Thompson, has hit the ground running since he started Jan. 10. Anyone in the travel industry who’s thinking of sending clients to St. Kitts, “be very confident we are ready for them,” says Thompson. Many U.S. carriers have already returned to the island. From Canada, Thompson says Air Canada “will most likely be back in the fall, most likely November 2022. Quite a lot of visitors from Canada come via American Airlines’ flights from Miami.”
St. Kitts is forecasting a return to 2019 visitation levels by 2023 or 2024. “It’s a matter of getting the lift back in place. Probably 2024 but we’re aiming for 2023,” says Thompson.
Romance is a key market for St. Kitts going forward, in keeping with the island’s slogan, ‘Follow Your Heart’. “Romance is one of the markets we’ll be going after quite heavily. That includes weddings, honeymoons and vow renewals,” says Thompson. “We definitely see romance being a strategic pillar for us.”