Pandemic-Impacted Caribbean Destinations Are Seeing a Travel Rebound


Major tourism-reliant Caribbean destinations are reporting steadily growing visitor arrivals as hotels reopen, flight service resumes and expands and countries plan for the resumption of cruise activity and new homeport agreements.

Government and tourism officials gathering for this week’s Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association’s virtual Marketplace event outlined the progress regional destinations have made to balance the resumption of the health and safety of residents and visitors with the need to resume crucial tourism activity.

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Most officials reported positive results in terms of traveler protocols and safeguards, as well as the prospects for continuing visitor growth as vaccinations increase both among travelers as well as in Caribbean communities. Here is a review of the tourism picture on several regional islands:

Jamaica

Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica’s minister of tourism, is projecting the country will welcome 1.4 million combined land-based and cruise ship visitors in 2021. While the number is a fraction of the record 4.3 million visitors in 2019, it exceeds the 1.3 million travelers hosted in 2020 during the height of the outbreak.

Jamaica has additionally launched a vaccination program for its 170,000 tourism and hospitality workers, said Bartlett. The initiative will “protect not only our citizens but also those who visit,” he said.

Bartlett expects more than half of all tourism workers to be fully vaccinated by this summer. “The global recovery rests on vaccinations to prevent transmission of the virus and to make everyone feel safe,” he said.

Bartlett said the pandemic has not stalled the country’s sweeping hospitality expansion plans and that Jamaica will add 4,300 new hotel rooms by 2023 and 7,000 new rooms by 2025.


Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica tourism minister
“The global recovery rests on vaccinations to prevent transmission of the virus and to make everyone feel safe.” – Edmund Bartlett (Photo by Brian Major)

The Bahamas

“Across the world, consumers are ready to travel again,” said Joy Jibrilu, director general of The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism & Aviation. “Our insights indicate there is a huge interest in Caribbean travel and specifically in travel to The Bahamas.”

She also pointed out the first phase of the vaccination campaign has been in full swing over the last few months and that the territory recently adjusted its traveler protocols to ease restrictions for vaccinated travelers.

Crystal Cruises and Royal Caribbean International will launch Bahamas-based cruise itineraries this summer. “We welcome the return of cruising to our islands,” said Jibrilu, who noted cruising accounts for over 70 percent of Bahamas visitor arrivals.

The itineraries will be supported by a $250 million redevelopment of Nassau’s cruise port, scheduled for completion by the summer of 2022.

St. Maarten/St.Martin

“We have gradually seen visitors coming back to our shores,” said May Ling Chung, St. Maarten’s director of tourism. “We are very fortunate to have most of our carriers return. We also have some new flights and new airlines.”

The routes include new American Airlines seasonal service from Dallas, adding to the carrier’s existing flights from Charlotte, Miami and Philadelphia, said Chung. Frontier Airlines is also adding new St. Maarten flights from Miami and Orlando. Delta, JetBlue, Spirit and United also offer flights to the destination.

Beginning June 5, St. Maarten will homeport ships from Celebrity Cruises, while luxury operator Crystal Cruises will also homeport a vessel in St. Maarten this summer, with voyages beginning in August. All passengers on the voyages will be vaccinated, Chung said.

Most of the hotels on the island’s Dutch and French sides have re-opened; the new Secrets Resort and Spa opened on April 1 in St. Martin.

“This tells you we have the confidence of not only the travelers, but our airlines partners, that travel is coming back,” said Chung. Sint Maarten’s “invisible” border between its French and Dutch sides is open to visitors.


Cruise ships in St. Maarten.
St. Maarten will homeport cruise ships from Celebrity Cruises and Crystal Cruises (Photo by Brian Major)

Turks & Caicos Islands

“Demand for the Turks & Caicos is up and we are grateful for that,” said Elisha Jennings, senior public relations officer for the Turks & Caicos Tourist Board. American Airlines will launch new nonstop flights from New York’s JFK International Airport in June, Jennings said. JetBlue recently added new Turks & Caicos flights from Newark.

On the cruise front, the Grand Turk Cruise Center is tentatively scheduled to reopen in August, she added. “Our [COVID-19] positivity rate among our guests is less than one percent, which means that a large majority of our guests are able to come to the Turks & Caicos Islands and enjoy themselves without significant fear of contracting the virus on island,” said Jennings.

In addition, “Our local positivity rate is just over three percent so compared to other destinations we are in a very good position,” she added. “Many of our resorts on island have set up COVID testing sites on-property.”

Jennings said 51 percent of Turks & Caicos residents have been vaccinated, and the government has set a goal of vaccinating 70 percent of residents by July, after which the 11 p.m. curfew will be reviewed.

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U.S. Virgin Islands

“We are moving to a new plateau in terms of vaccination. The community began the vaccination process from January,” said Alani Henneman-Todman, assistant commissioner at the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism.

“The territory was ahead of most places and we opened to the general public as well. It puts us in a very good position for the destination to be ahead of our partners in terms of vaccination and returning for safe travel.”

The U.S. Virgin Islands’ airlinks are some of the most extensive among Caribbean destinations, providing the territory with the capability to rebound quickly from pandemic closures, said Henneman-Todman.

St. Thomas’ Cyril E. King Airport is served by nonstop flights from 13 U.S. cities including San Juan, Puerto Rico. Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on sister island St. Croix hosts nonstop flights from five U.S. cities. “St. Croix’ flights are even stronger than they’ve been prior to the pandemic,” said Henneman-Todman.

“With no cruise ships coming in, it’s the airlift that’s keeping us abreast in the pandemic,” she noted. No date has been set for a return of cruise ships to what prior to the pandemic was among the Caribbean’s most popular cruise destinations, Henneman-Todman said.

Territory officials are working with CDC, the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) and the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) to ensure “the destination has a plan so that we can open to cruise passengers [and] welcome them back safely” when cruise calls resume, she said.

Hotel occupancies are showing slight month-to-month increases, although key properties including Caneel Bay, Carambola Beach Resort, Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort and Sugar Bay Beach Resort remain shuttered. Otherwise, “we are open to business and open to travel,” said Henneman-Todman.





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