While the pandemic dealt a huge blow to global tourism, perhaps no other sector in the industry has faced as much uncertainty and challenge as the cruise industry — keeping in limbo its primary and most profitable market, the Caribbean. Seven months into the pandemic, the world’s three largest cruise lines — Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Lines — have yet to sail. In a third extension of the No Sail Order, which applies to ships carrying over 250 passengers and cruising in American waters, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control cited “recent outbreaks on cruise ships overseas,” as well as in Alaska on smaller 60-passenger ships, as evidence that this type of travel “continues to transmit and amplify” the spread of Covid in spite of cruise ships’ extensive increased health protocols and reduced capacities.
Where does this leave the Caribbean region, and how are these destinations repositioning their industries for a more resilient future without such an economic dependence on mass cruise tourism? This article by Lebawit Lily Girma for Skift tells us just that.
RESHAPING TOURISM STRATEGIES
A primary aim of most Caribbean destinations remains to work with cruise lines to establish the safe return of ships, albeit in reduced numbers. “Our focus for moving forward is to protect the health and safety of all residents and visitors in The Bahamas […] whether they arrive by air or by sea,” Jibrilu said. Jamaica shared a similar goal. “Jamaica [is] focused on developing safe and seamless experiences for travelers,” Donovan White, director of tourism for Jamaica, told Skift.
In addition, highlighting Belize’s natural safety advantages — outdoor activities and low population density – will take priority in destination marketing efforts, while reaching out into new markets in Europe and South America were already on the agenda, as a result of pre-Covid capacity studies. “We contracted agencies in the UK, Germany, France, and the Netherlands, and one in Argentina,” Bevans said. “We are pushing other markets to spread out our inventory into low season months which will spread out capacity. Spread out the demand, getting into other markets that have high season for low peak – June to November – to help our sustainability.”
A DATED MEASURE OF SUCCESS
More than 30 million cruisers flocked to the Caribbean’s ports through one of the three aforementioned cruise companies, bringing 22 destinations an overall gross domestic product contribution of $59 billion, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s (CTO) 2019 statistical report. Of those, 14 Caribbean islands reported cruise tourism growth ranging from 11 percent in St. Vincent and the Grenadines to 70 percent in Dominica and 186.8 percent in the British Virgin Islands.
“For us, yes, overnight tourism provides more in terms of taxes, but cruise tourism is more impactful for socio economic development — it’s the artisans, the tour guides,” Karen Bevans, director of tourism for Belize, told Skift. It’s a sentiment shared among tourism leaders in the region, including The Bahamas, the region’s top cruise destination after Mexico, receiving up to 5.4 million cruisers in 2019. “Seeing as more than 70 percent of the government’s tax revenue comes from the millions of visitors who visit our shores each year, having the cruise lines return to The Bahamas would benefit local businesses, excursion and tour operators,” Joy Jibrilu, director general of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation, told Skift. “This is particularly true of Nassau and Freeport, our major population centers, that would feel the greater benefit.”
When cruises resume, The Bahamas is likely to be a top choice for its proximity to Miami. To boot, pre-Covid, a handful of destinations – Antigua, St. Kitts, Belize – had invested and were looking into investing in major infrastructure upgrades in light of booming cruise arrivals and bright 2020 projections.
A NEW REALITY: QUALITY OVER QUANTITY
Hard questions face a region now forced to plan ahead while mitigating the absence of big ships. Whether all destinations are actively working towards this or are able to financially push new initiatives at this time remains to be determined. What’s for certain is that the pandemic is a pivotal moment for the Caribbean — yet another one, that is, considering the 2017 twin hurricanes which revealed the region’s low resilience. But the magnitude of Covid-19 is such that Caribbean destinations will have no other choice but to embrace the new reality and make difficult decisions in the coming months. There’s just no going back to mass cruise tourism as we once knew it, where tens of thousands of tourists disembark in a single day in a single island destination — at least not for a long while.
For the Caribbean, which is well-positioned to bounce back post-Covid, that may turn out to be a silver lining as tourism leaders must now target higher value tourism — such as niche cruises, stay-over visitors — and create up market adventure and cultural experiences geared to the region’s changing, discerning millennial and Generation Z consumer base. All of this would bode really well for a post-Covid resilient and sustainable Caribbean tourism industry.
Excerpt taken from Skift.com in an article originally written by Lebawit Lily Girma for Skift.com. Read original article here. Editor’s Note: The current no-sail order is set to expire on October 31, and the CDC last week released what is known as a Level 3 Warning regarding cruising.