About 3 months ago, the world at large stopped traveling, propelling the global hospitality and tourism industry into the deepest economic abyss ever known.
According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), 2020 will see over 100 million jobs in travel and tourism gone and their research estimates a projected travel & tourism GDP loss of US$2.7 trillion.
In the Caribbean, one of the most tourism dependent regions in the World, COVID-19 delivered a severe blow to our fragile economies and has the potential to plunge many Caribbean countries into a severe recession, made worse by the limited resources available to protect their people and provide benefits or stimulus packages. In fact, the Internatioal Monetary Fund (IMF) recently warned that the Caribbean will face their deepest recession in more than half a century.
There has been and continues to be a lot of discussion when and how to re-open the borders and jump-start tourism activity with COVID-19 still spreading and a vaccine not yet available. In the Caribbean, with economies so dependent on tourism, it would not be possible to bring about an economic recovery without tourism or by keeping borders closed indefinitely.
But not only are many Caribbean economies fragile, the same applies to many of the regional health care systems, which could not handle a wide spread outbreak of COVID-19 and must take into account that a larger than average percentage of the population suffers from underlying conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
And as the Caribbean gets ready to welcome visitors again, with several islands now open to visitors, a balance needs to be found between allowing for economic recovery through tourism, protecting vulnerable citizens and creating an enjoyable yet safe environment for our visitors.
In order to strike that right balance, the travel and tourism industry must not only embrace responsible travel and responsible tourism in the traditional sense, but give new meaning to respectful travel and tourism.
For the next few months and perhaps even longer, anyone traveling to the Caribbean (or elsewhere for that matter) should be respectful of the fact that in order to keep everyone safe – fellow travelers, tourism workers, citizens of the host country – the ongoing threat of COVID-19 should not be taken lightly and will require some adjustment by all. Whilst some of the pre-arrival test requirements imposed by Caribbean countries may present a challenge, they help mitigate the risk of bringing COVID-19 into the islands. Hopefully, tests will in future be more easily available and test results turned around faster.
Anyone traveling should take extra pre-cautions in the weeks and days leading to their departure date, all in an effort to prevent an infection. If for some reason, a pre-arrival test couldn’t be obtained, many islands will then conduct a rapid test on arrival. Testing positive on arrival is the scenario best avoided hence all those preparations and precautions prior to actually departing make a lot of sense.
Responsible, respectful tourism is also practiced in the destination:
On many of the islands, a lot of thought has been given to the visitor journey from arrival to departure.
Airports, transportation providers, hotels have implemented new procedures to create many safety layers to keep everyone healthy and mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Focus is on touch-less operations, maintaining the prescribed physical distance where possible and regular monitoring of everyone’s health.
A lot of these new procedures have been established formally through government protocols, in most instances requiring tourism businesses to undergo a re-certification process prior to re-opening. In addition, many businesses have consulted and adopted best practices available through CDC, WHO and many other professional, international organizations and training institutes.
When it comes to training of hospitality and tourism workers, the training highlights the COVID-19 risks, how to mitigate these risks and by adhering to all new procedures responsibly, showing respect to those around whether they are guests or fellow workers, and by extension, the families and friends in their home communities.
But emphasis on respectful travel and tourism is just one aspect of responsible travel and tourism and does not begin and end with new health and safety precautions.
Responsible tourism must – more than ever- embrace the full spectrum of operating sustainably beginning with the protection and preservation of the environment, allowing for maximum economic benefit to stay in the host country and facilitating the traveler’s exposure to the host community and its history, art and culture. And the responsible traveler will make an effort to go deeper than the surface and thoroughly understand the places they will visit.
As a Caribbean hotelier, it is my hope that the visitors arriving at our destination and at our resort will turn out to be respectful and responsible travelers just as we will endeavor to be respectful and responsible hosts. With that sense of shared respect and responsibility, there is no reason why the sun, sand, sea and scenery, paired with our legendary great hospitality and culinary excellence should not be as memorable and enticing as they have always been.