At a time when news headlines related to the COVID-19 pandemic have been dire, Barbados captured imaginations around the world with the announcement of its 12-month Welcome Stamp program. The initiative invites foreign nationals who meet certain criteria to make the Caribbean island their base for remote work. This as residents of some of the island’s major tourism source markets continue to grapple with curtailing the spread of the coronavirus. It is a creative adaptation of existing mechanisms to shore up the fall-off in tourism revenue caused by the pandemic, which represents an extreme economic shock to tourism-dependent Caribbean nations.
Faced with this unprecedented global health crisis, innovative approaches are indeed critical, especially in small, vulnerable economies that must work hard to keep pace – even during less challenging times. The Barbados Welcome Stamp initiative is an example of how Caribbean countries can pivot to create opportunities for economic activity as they resume welcoming tourism arrivals.
In the second instalment of the Tourism in the Caribbean: Stories from the field during COVID-19 podcast, Chief Operations Officer of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), Vanessa Ledesma-Berrios, acting Secretary General of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), Neil Walters, and Executive Director of the Compete Caribbean Partnership Facility, Sylvia Dohnert, explore some of the predicted trends for Caribbean tourism and highlight how greater collaboration across the public and private sectors and across countries within the region are helping confront the pandemic challenge.
The diversity of the Caribbean region provides a unique appeal and the concept of ‘travel bubbles,’ capitalizing on the success of participating countries in managing the pandemic. Some of the issues the podcast highlights include the need for behavioral training to adapt to the new way of providing hospitality services, changes in travel demographics and an increasing demand for digital technology to be integrated into travel protocols and services.
“COVID-19 has accelerated changes that were coming, and the Caribbean tourism product has to adapt more quickly, including use of this digital technology,” Dohnert points out.
The pandemic also offers an opportunity to consider what kind of tourism the Caribbean wants to bring back as countries reopen – a topic that is discussed in the third instalment of the Tourism in the Caribbean: Stories from the field during COVID-19 podcast.
In that discussion, Graham Watkins, Chief of the IDB’s Climate Change and Sustainability Division, says the Caribbean should be contemplating a return to long-haul, large-scale tourism or moving closer towards a resilient, ecotourism approach where benefits flow back to local actors in greater measure.
For Barbados-based ecotourism stakeholders, Ian McNeel of Walkers Reserve and Mahmood Patel of Coco Hill Forest, the current circumstances present a rare opportunity to take stock of the direction and pivotal economic role of the tourism industry. They point to the need to create stronger linkages between tourism and other sectors of the economy that will better support local communities, and to imagining new business models.
To learn about some of the support mechanisms available to the Caribbean tourism sector and predictions of new trends, listen to Part 2 of this podcast series.
For more insight into ways in which the Caribbean can start to reshape the tourism sector, listen to Part 3 of this podcast series.
For all our other podcasts, please visit our Improving Lives in the Caribbean playlist.