Pablo Torres, the president of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), is predicting that the Caribbean will see a return of tourism to the region, “faster than many parts of the world,” thanks to the protocols and partnerships implemented throughout the region to help lessen the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the same time, vaccines against the coronavirus have rolled out, not just in Puerto Rico, but across the United States and the Caribbean as well.
“Tourism is our key to recovery, to restoring the livelihood of thousands of employees in our industry, to reopening our doors, and welcoming our guests,” said Torres, who is also the general manager of Caribe Hilton, which is located in San Juan.
In addition to replenishing tax revenues to cash-strapped governments, he noted that a tourism revival would refresh and renew “the minds, bodies and spirits of millions of travelers who will discover that the Caribbean is the best place on earth to recover from the ravage of this pandemic.”
From territory- and country-specific COVID-19 testing requirements and stringent cleaning and sanitization protocols in place at accommodations providers to social distancing and face mask policies and rules limiting capacity at restaurants and other gathering places, Torres noted that the Caribbean hospitality sector has gone to great lengths to protect and ensure the health and safety of both residents and visitors.
“While the tourism industry and economies are challenged in unprecedented ways, the Caribbean tourism industry is not a stranger to crises, and there is every reason to believe that it will continue to show its resilience and it will rebound,” he said.
Air traffic in several airports of the region, including that of San Juan, continued to lag compared with 2019 numbers. For example, Grupo Aeroportuario del Sureste (ASUR), a leading international airport group with operations in Mexico, Puerto Rico and Colombia, announced that total passenger traffic for December 2020 decreased 41.2 percent when compared to December 2019. Passenger traffic decreased 37.4 percent in Mexico, 45.2 percent in Puerto Rico and 48.4 percent in Colombia, impacted by severe downturns in business and leisure travel stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.
ASUR, which operates the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (LMM) in San Juan, reported that in December 2020, LMM reported a total of 513,404 passengers, compared to 937,716 in December 2019, which represents a decrease of 45.2 percent. For the year, LMM registered a total of 4,845,353 total passengers, versus 9,448,253 passengers for 2019, representing a year-over-year drop of 48.7 percent.
Cruising Still at a Low Point
The cruise industry also continues to suffer billion-dollar losses, as many cruise lines have been forced to suspend operations since the pandemic began in early 2020. For example, Carnival Corp., a main cruise line in Puerto Rico and the rest of the Caribbean, has reported U.S. GAAP [generally accepted accounting principles] net loss of $2.2 billion and adjusted net loss of $1.9 billion for the fourth quarter of 2020. The company has also accelerated the removal of 19 less efficient ships, 15 of which have already left the fleet.
On the positive side, cumulative advanced bookings for the first half of 2022 are ahead of 2019, despite minimal advertising or marketing, which bodes well for the future, Carnival indicated.
“2020 has proven to be a true testament to the resilience of our company. We took aggressive actions to implement and optimize a complete pause in our guest cruise operations across all brands globally, and developed protocols to begin our staggered resumption, first in Italy for our Costa brand, then followed by Germany for our AIDA brand. We are now working diligently towards resuming operations in Asia, Australia, the UK and the U.S. over the course of 2021,” said Carnival president and CEO Arnold Donald.