Over 1.7 million persons in the Caribbean employed in the travel and tourism sector have lost their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, a number that can increase to 1.9 million by year’s end.
The startling figures were revealed by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) during a recent webinar focusing on the economic impact COVID has had on the sector, and the prospects for recovery.
The December 18 webinar was hosted by the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO), the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) and the Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre (GTRCMC).
Virginia Messina, the Managing Director of the WTTC told participants that of the 2.8 million jobs supported by travel and tourism in the Caribbean, 1.7 million of those jobs have been lost, adding that it could get worse.
“If there is no improvement in terms of the restrictions and if there is no recovery during December this number could be all the way up to 1.9 million so there are 200,000 additional jobs that are currently at stake.”
In terms of the GDP, the downturn in travel and tourism has cost the Caribbean US$36 billion in 2020, which can rise to US$42 billion, barring an improvement.
On a global scale, the WTTC reports that 142.6 million jobs have been lost in the travel and tourism sector this year; and this number can also rise to 174.4 million jobs.
The loss to global GDP is a staggering US$3,815 billion, which may end-up at US$4,711 billion, if things don’t improve.
This is devastating news for the Caribbean, which is one of the most heavily-dependent regions in the world on the travel and tourism sector.
Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism, Edmund Bartlett, who is also co-Chair of the GTRCMC, noted that the region must be fully cognizant not only of the current health crisis, but also the looming economic crisis.
“The Centre recognises that the timely recovery of tourism is crucial to the overall economic stability of the region. The socio-economic fallout from any prolonged disruption to the tourism sector will likely produce dire consequences for the Caribbean,” he said.
Mr Bartlett called for a more synchronized set of protocol arrangements in the Caribbean – a suggestion which received the full backing from the WTTC.
“Part of the difficulty that the market is having, is having to deal with …a different set of protocols, a different set of requirements.
“There is an urgent need — and I would put that as number one on the recovery chart — to enable a more cohesive and a more aligned set of protocols that the market can relate to and our partners can deal with.”
In fact, this was one of four key pillars to support the recovery of the sector presented by the WTTC.
The tourism body went further to suggest a testing and framework program based on risk assessment, replacing countrywide 14-day quarantines with selective quarantines of positive cases, elimination of travel advisories and bans on non-essential travel, as well as wider adoption of rapid antigen testing.
Michel Julian of the U.N. World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) estimates that it will take approximately 2.5 to four years for travel and tourism to recover to 2019 levels and will depend on three main factors: reversal of the pandemic, a return of traveler confidence and lifting of travel restrictions.
“The WTO estimates that between 100 to 120 million direct tourism jobs are at risk, but also millions of other businesses, especially small and medium enterprises and also millions of livelihoods (indirectly dependent on tourism).
For his part, Bartlett said the current crisis offers the Caribbean the opportunity to come together “and be truly seen as an integrated region where we collaborate and share resources.”
The Jamaica minister’s challenge was placed in the form of a few questions that he also answered:
“Can we find a single Caribbean passport that allows entry everywhere?
“Can we find a single visa regime?
“Can we find a situation where we rationalize our airspace, where a single fee is paid to enable airlines to fly through, with a lower cost?
“I think these are a number of new and innovative steps, which we now have to look at.”