Caribbean tourism on rebound

Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett.
Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett.
Jamaica Ministry of Tourism

In the clearest sign yet that the Caribbean tourism sector is back with a bang after near COVID-19 pandemic shutouts, several of the major destinations including The Bahamas and Jamaica say they are on course to list record numbers of arrivals this year.

The start of pandemic in 2020 had led to a near total shut down of many of the Caribbean destinations, with shuttered airports, inactive cruise ports, berthed vessels, closed restaurants and empty hotels among other problems.

But the region is cashing in on a tough North American and European winter with The Bahamas already recording just over seven million arrivals last year, taking its figures back to pre-pandemic levels up to 2109, the last year of tourism thriving before COVID struck worldwide. The 2019 figure was an overall arrivals record.

The Bahamian Deputy Prime Chester Cooper said the industry worked collectively to bring the situation back to normal.

“The fact that we have exceeded expectations and attracted more than seven million visitors to our country in 2022, something only done once before in a single year was no accident. Countless stakeholders including our international partners, worked tirelessly to achieve this. We sought to strengthen relationships to open new air routes. We sought to make travel to The Bahamas easier, more accessible, and affordable and took the message that we were open for business during our missions and provided insight on our wonderful offerings to the world,” the minister said.

Several of the Bahamas’ major properties, including the world famous Baha Mar Resort lost hundreds of millions of dollars during the shutdown but are showing clear signs of rebounding. “We are on track to break records in 2023. We don’t see this slowing down anytime soon,” the minister said.

In nearby exotic Jamaica, Minister of Tourism, Ed Bartlett said the island earned $3.7 billion from the sector last year, shattering all previous records as North Americans and Europeans head to the warmth of the region in record numbers.

“We ended the year equaling the record-breaking earnings of tourism of US$3.64 billion, and the 2022/23 fiscal year, which I will report on when we make our 2023/24 budget presentation, is going to show US$4.2 billion earnings in tourism, which would be US$500 million more than 2019, which is the best year in our history,” he told a local forum recently.

And speaking on a New York television morning program weeks ago, Bartlett said Jamaica will continue to do well once it keeps its product fresh and unique. “While we are a small nation compared to many others in the world, our naturally beautiful landscape, unique culture and variety of attractions and accommodations keep Jamaica at the top of travelers’ preferred places to visit. Having posted our best summer ever on record in 2022, and with arrivals now pacing well through fall, it is a clear demonstration that Jamaica’s tourism sector is indeed resilient, and has a lasting appeal among consumers.”

Several other regional destinations including Barbados, Aruba and Puerto Rico are also reporting an uptake in arrivals, both long stay and stop over from the cruise sector last year.

Even Grenada, which has suffered badly from the collapse of Antigua-based, lifeline commuter provider, LIAT, said it is happy with the situation, noting, for example, that arrivals last November were the highest ever for that month when those fleeing harsh winters begin to arrive.

Confirming individual national figures, the Barbados-based umbrella Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) said the industry has indeed rebounded strongly, acting Secretary General Neil Walters said recently.

“The year 2022 and especially the second half of the year has been a very encouraging one for Caribbean tourism. While we are still seeing elements of the effect of the pandemic on international travel, here in the Caribbean, we have noted a much more consistent pattern of travel which is a good indicator of a return to normalcy and a path to 2019 levels.”