Gay Nagle Myers
It’s been a hell of a year, but we finally said goodbye and goodbye to 2020, a year that hit millions of people, families and industries in hundreds of countries hard.
The pandemic continues to strike us all across borders and boundaries: exhausted healthcare workers; struggling business and restaurant owners; Travel consultants juggling cancellations and ever-changing entry regulations; Cleaning staff without hotel rooms to clean; and beach vendors who don’t sell goods or tourists who want to buy their coconut shells and hand-woven straw hats.
One of my memories of the terrible year 2020 is personal and probably very selfish, also very small compared to the actual sufferings and losses of so many others. A trip to the Caribbean was finally in sight at the end of October, but I was told that where I live (Virginia) was a high risk state and that I was a high risk traveler and therefore not welcome on this island at the time.
For thoughts and insights into the past year and the year we are now in, I reached out to three industry leaders: Frank Comito, General Manager and CEO of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA); Karolin Troubetzkoy, Executive Director, Marketing and Operations of Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain Resorts in St. Lucia and former President of CHTA, and Brad Dean, CEO of Discover Puerto Rico.
I interrupted their much-needed vacation breaks with my questions, but they broke away from their R’nR to share their answers with me and you.
Q: How would you best describe 2020?
Committee: Without question, it was the most challenging year in the world, and especially for the Caribbean, given the important role tourism plays in the economies of the region. It’s been a year that tested our people’s skills and, by and large, we passed the test, many times awarded.
We saw a level of engagement and collaboration at local and regional levels from government and tourism industry leaders and health officials like we had never seen before: to protect our industry, minimize the pandemic threat to visitors and residents, and ours Work towards recovery.
Troubetzkoy: The never-ending and grueling pandemic pandemic has put our sanity and optimism to the test. My motto was, “Don’t let what you can’t do interferes with what you can”. (John Wooden).
Dean: 2020 was turbulent, arduous and unpredictable – the year the journey was stopped.
Q: What is your forecast / forecast / hope / forecast for 2021?
Committee: We assume that the recovery will only continue very slowly in the first and second quarters. We expect business will steadily improve over the summer as consumer confidence returns and more people are vaccinated, and technology, availability and costs improve too.
The forecasts vary and we are in a constantly changing environment. Even so, almost half of travelers expect to be ready to travel sometime this year.
The average occupancy rate in the region last autumn was between 20% and 40%. We hope for an average of 40% to 60% improvement in the first quarter as we approach summer.
Room rates are close to what we saw before the pandemic and are expected to hold, possibly with a small drop.
Troubetzkoy: Carefully optimistic. Beware because the situation is still so fluid and it’s too early to understand how quickly the vaccine can reach a wide range of the population. Optimistic because Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain are two small boutique resorts on our own 600 acre estate with two beaches and lots of on-site activities, the setting travelers are looking for these days.
Dean: The great recovery of travel and tourism will begin in 2021. As the year begins in the middle of the pandemic, optimism about the start of vaccinations has risen. The first few months will continue to be challenging for our industry, but the outlook for the rest of the year is encouraging and the pent-up demand for travel is growing.
Q: What trends do you see that will continue through 2021?
Committee: People absolutely want to and must flee. This is an overall motivational factor that will drive demand in most travel sectors with the exception of larger groups. Travelers want destinations where they can enjoy the great outdoors. They will appreciate places where they can heal their body, mind, and spirit, which the Caribbean is good at, and top them off with some of the best spa and wellness experiences ever.
Travelers want a familiar place nearby that offers new travel experiences.
I urge everyone to think of a place that fits this bill better than the Caribbean, for a long weekend getaway, a weekend break or an extended work and play experience.
Troubetzkoy: Health protocols and tourism will continue to be closely related. Travelers and their travel agents want to be sure that both the destination of their choice and the resort of their choice ensure the safety of all. There will be a new focus on responsible tourism and travel.
More than ever, responsible tourism must encompass the full spectrum of sustainable operations, starting with the protection and preservation of the environment, so that the maximum economic benefit remains in the host country and the traveler can get to know the history, art and culture of the host community.
Travelers will endeavor to responsibly choose their vacation destination and thoroughly understand the places they are visiting.
Dean: The constant changes in security protocols and associated health measures have kept travelers informed and compressed the already short booking window even more. This will continue this year until a vaccine is widely used. At the goal level, we have been largely challenged to manage the interface between travel and public health across the travel continuum like never before. That won’t change this year. The price of admission is improved standards of hygiene, cleanliness and customer service.
2021 will be another challenging year for tourism marketers, although the emerging recovery should lead to better results.
Exhausted budgets, expanded digitization and the immense challenge of balancing value propositions, inspiring content and health-related news require adaptive innovations.
Q: What is your message to travel consultants and tour operators regarding travel in 2021?
Committee: We are ready for you. We have some of the most effective health security protocols in the world. Since last June, thousands of employees in the industry have received health and safety training that is ongoing. The Caribbean tourism industry has had a unique tourism and health partnership for years that has prepared us for these difficult times between the Caribbean Health Department, CHTA and the Caribbean Tourism Organization.
Since last spring, Caribbean hoteliers have put in place flexible cancellation policies, and many offer travel protection that covers the circumstances of Covid-19.
Don’t just listen to us; Listen to what thousands of travelers who have visited our shores since last June have said about their experience in reviews online: overwhelmingly positive and grateful for the opportunity to escape safely.
Troubetzkoy: More than ever, we need to support each other in order to rebuild trust in travel. Exchanging information and having quick access to that information is critical for everyone involved. As hoteliers, we know how important it is to ensure maximum flexibility with our reservation conditions and guidelines.
Dean: Every crisis brings opportunity and this year is no exception. With the pent-up demand for travel and the optimism generated by vaccines, those who are agile and responsive to consumer needs and wants will prevail.
We’re likely facing a multi-year recovery, but considering what we’ve all been through, 2021 is set to spark an amazing comeback story for our industry.