by Brian Major
Last updated: 2:00 AM ET, Thu September 16, 2021
Led by Jamaica's plan to offer visitors travel insurance and region-wide efforts to vaccinate residents and tourism workers, Caribbean nations are adapting established health and safety protocols to maintain crucial tourism activity even as several manage local coronavirus spikes.
In fact, several regional destinations are posting strong visitor numbers despite the myriad difficulties created by the coronavirus pandemic. Officials are cautiously optimistic as the winter season, traditionally the region's busiest travel period, approaches.
"We are slightly ahead of our [visitor] projections for 2021 and we anticipate that growth will continue through the end of the year," said Donovan White, Jamaica's director of tourism.
Speaking Tuesday during a media briefing featuring Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) member countries, White said Jamaica had recorded 829,000 visitor arrivals by the end of August. "[With] all things being equal, we will have a successful winter tourist season which will start 2022," he said.
Jamaica is also preparing to debut a long-promised visitor travel insurance program, said White. "We are presently in the process of selecting carriers for a game-changing travel insurance," said White. The coverage will "facilitate logistics, movement and support care for persons who contract COVID-19 in the destination while on vacation," he said. Details on the program "are to come," White said.
Jamaica's overall resident vaccination rate remains low and the country has been subject to frequent "no-movement" days due to local coronavirus surges.
Nevertheless, tourism activities continue, restricted to the country's "resilient corridors," which encompass 85 percent of Jamaican tourist attractions. "We believe this indicates our protocols are working and we can facilitate all types of travelers to the destination," said White.
The corridors represent less than one percent of Jamaica's population and have recorded an infection rate of 0.4 percent, White said. The government has established a tourism vaccination task force to facilitate COVID-19 vaccination for all tourism workers, White said.
Other tourism-reliant Caribbean destinations are weathering coronavirus spikes while promoting vaccination and strict protocols to maintain tourism activity. Curacao endured a major COVID-19 peak in March and April that included an island lockdown with minimal arrivals and restricted movements, said Paul Pennicook, CEO of the Curacao Tourist Board.
However since that time, "The [COVID numbers] have stabilized and we're at a point where it's very safe to come to Curacao," Pennicook said, adding 70 percent of residents over 16 are fully vaccinated.
While Curacao is popular with Europeans, "Our North American arrivals are far less than we would like them to be," said Pennicook. However "we currently have developments in our hotel sector that are very North American friendly," he said.
Pennicook cited the 2020 re-openings of the Curacao Marriott Beach Resort and Dreams Curacao resort, the debut of the Mangrove Beach Corendon Curacao Resort and the recent renovation of the Renaissance Curacao Resort & Casino, all targeted to North American clientele. A Best Western hotel will open in Curacao later this year and the Sandals Royal Curacao resort will open in April 2022.
Meanwhile, St. Maarten is reporting "a gradually upward trend for our summer," said May-Ling Chun, director of tourism. "Most of the visitors have come from the United States which leads in our recovery," she added.
Thirty-eight percent of St. Maarten's population is vaccinated, representing 23,000 residents Chun said. "The ongoing national campaign pushed for people to be vaccinated because we are a tourism-based economy," she added.
Barbados has expanded its COVID-19 testing facilities for visitors and residents, with on-site COVID testing labs established at the Crane Resort and Sandals Barbados properties said Lisa Cummins, the country's tourism minister. Cummins said the labs "have been servicing the industry," but are open to all residents and travelers. Additionally, "Close to 90 percent of our visitors from our major source markets are coming in vaccinated," she said.
Despite a 71 percent decrease in visitors between January and September of 2021 compared with the same period in 2019, visitor traffic has increased in recent weeks with "flights have been flying into Barbados at around 100 of capacity," said Cummins. American Airlines resumed seven-day-a-week daily flights from Newark and Miami to Barbados, she added.
Barbados' Welcome Stamp program has helped the destination weather the decline pandemic-driven decline in leisure travelers, said Cummins. The "visa waiver" program has welcomed over 5,000 individuals. "We have been able to successfully compensate for the loss in short-term travel by bringing long-term visitors who are staying with us for a year or more," she said.
Some Caribbean destinations are in fact reporting robust visitor traffic. "July and August have been the busiest months of this year since the pandemic," said Colin James, CEO of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority. "We are seeing phenomenal growth in visitor arrivals as we take advantage of pent-up traveler demand."
James said the dual-island nation hosted 23,405 visitors in July, which surpassed July 2019, the best year for visitor arrivals in Antigua and Barbuda history. The positive totals continued in August James said, with 18,000 visitors.
"We have seen the evolution since the pandemic. September is traditionally the slowest month of the year, so we are waiting to see what happens, but the key message is Antigua is open [and] we have strong protocols."
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