Officials contend the problem isn’t resort-goers. But locals aren’t so sure.
Kiernan Dunlop, Bloomberg March 30, 2021
On a clear day in Antigua, Uriah Gregory, 43, pulls his taxi van over in front of a guest house painted in bright pink, purple, and orange hues and steps out to help a woman with her luggage.
Pre-pandemic, Gregory estimates his taxi brought in $1,110 a month, shuttling visitors from resorts to restaurants and beaches during peak tourist season on the Caribbean island. Now, with few of those visitors in sight, he’s barely averaging $110.
In the twin-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, tourism is responsible for up to 60% of the GDP, making Gregory one of many locals living on a fraction of their typical income. According to Prime Minister Gaston Browne, the pandemic resulted in an 18% loss to the country’s GDP in 2020, and sent unemployment from single digits to more than 30%.
And while Browne reopened international borders in June, it took until the end of 2020—when a rash of bookings offered the first meaningful glimpse of tourism recovery—for the consequences to crystallize.
Throughout 2020, Antigua and Barbuda’s population of 100,000 saw just 159 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and five related deaths, giving the islands of 365 beaches the appearance of a save haven. Those numbers meant that only 1 out of every 629 residents ever developed the infection in 2020; during the peak of the second wave in July, it would have taken Miami just three days to achieve roughly the same levels of virality across its population of six million.
As a result, nearly 15,000 travelers flew or boated to Antigua and Barbuda in December, more than doubling numbers from the month before. (Antigua is a convenient haven for east coast Americans, many of whom can get there via direct flights.) That began a wave of sustained tourism larger than any other throughout the pandemic.
But as more visitors arrived, so did the cases of Covid-19. Confirmed positives multiplied nearly sevenfold in 2021, reaching 1,103 as of March 25. Deaths rose to 28. As a result, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention increased its risk assessment for the country from Level 2 (moderate) to Level 4 (very high) at the beginning of March.
That’s forced Browne and his government to reckon with how closely connected international travel has been to the public health crisis—and to uncover that not all forms of travel are equally problematic. Their findings could take on new urgency as travel professionals are recommending Caribbean trips to clients—newly vaccinated and otherwise—not just for the remainder of the spring season, but even into the typically low-season summer months.
A Tale of Two Policies
When foreign travelers arrive in Antigua and Barbuda, they’re allowed a certain level of “controlled flexibility.” All visitors must present a negative PCR test taken within seven days of arrival, wear masks, social distance, and obey a curfew currently set from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Snorkeling with sting rays and exploring offshore islands is allowed, but only via certified, Covid-compliant vendors. Even hotels must be on a Covid-compliant list, like the luxury private island Jumby Bay or Carlisle Bay, where extensive public health protocol are followed to the letter.
Returning nationals—any citizen living abroad returning to Antigua and Barbuda—and other visitors not planning to stay at certified accommodations have it harder. They must quarantine for 14 days at a government-designated facility, such as the three-star Jolly Beach Resort, on their own dime.
For some locals, the double-standard is perceived as disproportionately affecting citizens, while allowing high-paying tourists to run free. And after videos and photos spread across social media in February showing people drinking, socializing, and dancing in close proximity at a resort on Valentine’s Day—allegedly including American celebrities—that debate kicked into fourth gear. (The links to the videos were quickly taken down, making them difficult to verify.)
On radio shows and across social media, locals have also voiced frustration that they get fined for breaking rules, but bad behaving tourists barely get a slap on the wrist; one Antiguan who broke curfew, for instance, was fined $500. That growing resentment feeds the suspicion among some Antiguans and Barbudans that party-going Americans and other tourists may be to blame for their growing public health crisis.
Browne and members of his government disagree and point to returning nationals as the problem.
“Tourists are managed from the time they leave the plane to the time they [get back on the] plane,” says Minister of Tourism Charles Fernandez, adding that every person a tourist comes in contact with—from taxi driver to tour operator—is trained in safety protocols. He says fewer than 10 people traveling solely as tourists have tested positive since the U.S. and U.K. mandated PCR testing before re-entry in January, and there’s no evidence of transmission in the hotel industry.
Both Fernandez and Browne say it was 1,500 expats who returned for the holidays—making up 7% of inbound arrivals throughout the festive season—that were flouting the rules when they briefly extended an opportunity for at-home quarantines. Compliance was so bad, the country at one point considered mandating ankle monitors. But it instead nixed at-home quarantine options in mid-January, sending Covid-19 cases back down.
This evidence has “proven conclusively that the problem is not tourists,” says Browne, though complaints of foreigners’ behavior are still circling social media.
A Caribbean Dilemma
Antigua and Barbuda isn’t the only Caribbean island struggling to bring tourism back safely amid the pandemic.
Barbados recorded 400 cases in all of 2020—only to see 3,071 positives in the past three months, following a year-end tourism spike. Expats returning to Cuba, and the ensuing family reunions, were behind the country’s ballooning cases in early 2021, according to Cuban head of epidemiology Francisco Duran. (Cases in February 2021 accounted for roughly one-third of the 70,000 total Covid positives the country has recorded throughout the pandemic.) And in Jamaica, a seven-day average high of 176 daily cases in September 2020 has more than tripled into 618 daily cases as of March 23, triggering the government to tighten its window for mandatory PCR testing from 10 days pre-arrival to three.
Caribbean islands with the strictest travel protocols—or the smallest tourism footprints—are faring better.
“Basically life seems normal in Anguilla,” says Haydn Hughes, tourism minister for the island of over 18,000, where only 21 cases have been reported since the pandemic’s start. Locals there interact without masks or distancing, but all visitors must be pre-approved for travel thorough a registration process, get tested on arrival, and provide proof of a negative test between three to five days of their trip, after which they can only participate in certified activities like snorkeling and spelunking while following protocols. Returning nationals to Anguilla are constantly monitored during a 14-day quarantine. Unlike Antigua and Barbuda, it has not relaxed how quarantine periods for returning nationals are handled.
Barbuda, with a population of about 1,500 and only three hotels, has recorded only seven cases and no deaths, according to resident doctor Jeremy Deazle, who credits a strict and early adherence to Covid protocols.
But restricting tourism further in Antigua would lead to more economic loss, says Fernadez. Instead, the island has shut down bars, extended the curfew, and curtailed indoor dining.
“Our Prime Minister is very realistic,” says Eli Fuller, owner of the boat tour company Adventure Antigua, who briefly considered shutting down operations again as cases rose in February. “If we don’t have tourism here, we’re going to starve,” he explains.
In Antigua, the cruise ship terminal, usually bustling with activity, has been empty since April, absent of the more than 600,000 cruise ship passengers who arrived from March 2019 to February 2020. That may soon change, as major cruise lines begin plotting their return to the Caribbean starting in June. Only inoculated adults will be welcome on the ships.
But Antiguans and Barbudans themselves have no clear timeline as to when they, too, will join the double-jabbed masses. Herd immunity could be achieved across the Caribbean with just 300,000 to 400,000 doses, says Browne, but vaccines have been difficult for island nations to procure, with wealthy nations buying up the supply.
On March 1, Antigua and Barbuda began a vaccination campaign with 40,000 Oxford-AstraZeneca doses donated from India and Dominica that have so far been put into 25,961 arms. Another 14,400 doses are coming from the World Health Organization’s COVAX program, which was set up to address global inequities in vaccine availability. But that leaves nearly three-quarters of the local population waiting for another source.
Browne is advocating that the U.S. and U.K. ought to step up with donations, especially given the high volumes of returning nationals coming from those countries.
“What happened to the U.S.’ third border, the Caribbean?” Browne questions, after President Joe Biden announced plans in mid-March to loan millions of Oxford-AstraZeneca shots to Mexico and Canada. Lives and livelihoods are at risk, Browne says, predicting that the local population could spiral into poverty if tourism doesn’t fully rebound by summer.
Certainly the current situation isn’t sustainable. Fuller’s boat tour company is generating just 12% of the profits he normally would this time of year.
Taxi driver Gregory is confident that once residents are vaccinated, he country “can and will regain its status” as a premier destination for travel. But, he adds, until then, “with the lost income, you can’t buy food, you can’t pay your bills. The little savings you have, you watch it gradually depleting.”
The CDC is still banning U.S. cruises. Americans will sail this summer, thanks to a workaround.
By Hannah Sampson Washington Post March 25 2021
Don and Heidi Bucolo were on one of the last cruise ships to sail from the United States before the industry shut down more than a year ago. On Wednesday morning, they booked a voyage on one of the first to resume for Americans.
“We knew we would do it as soon as the first cruises came out,” said Don Bucolo, 40, who lives in the Boston area and runs the cruise review site EatSleepCruise.com with his wife.
The June 12 Bahamas sailing on Royal Caribbean International’s Adventure of the Seas this summer will not touch a U.S. port, however, since that is still banned by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Instead, lines including Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Crystal Cruises are going around the public health agency to countries that are more hospitable to cruising — and outside CDC’s jurisdiction. Instead of departing from the United States and heading to the Bahamas, Bermuda and Caribbean islands, ships are starting their trips in those destinations beginning in June and July and working with health authorities there.
“I anticipate you’ll hear further announcements and those announcements will put further pressure on the CDC to make a decision,” said John Lovell, president of Travel Leaders Group, a travel agency network.
Other major cruise companies including Carnival, Norwegian and MSC have not said if they will take a similar approach to cruising in North America this summer. Most have canceled sailings from the United States through the end of May or June, while the industry is pressuring the CDC to let U.S. cruises start again by early July. The CDC, which is working on detailed instructions for cruise lines to return to service, has rebuffed that request.
“People want to travel, people want to cruise,” Lovell said. “The only thing they’re looking for is the government to say what you can do and what you can’t do — and we’re not getting that information.”
Vaccine requirements are in place for the operators that are restarting for U.S. passengers in the summer. Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, both part of Royal Caribbean Group, will mandate vaccinations for adult guests and crew, with children under 18 required to test negative for the coronavirus. Crystal, an all-inclusive luxury line, will only allow vaccinated customers on board. Passengers also have to meet testing requirements of the countries they are visiting.
Crystal has said its onboard protocols will include social distancing, reduced capacity, masks where distancing isn’t possible and temperature checks. Royal Caribbean and Celebrity have not detailed what the experience will be like during cruises. Royal Caribbean International CEO Michael Bayley told The Washington Post that the company is waiting to see what public health officials are saying vaccinated people can do closer to June before announcing safety measures.
“This is a way to get people back on ships to show that they are safe, to show that they can have a great vacation again, to test out and try the new protocols,” said Colleen McDaniel, editor in chief of the cruise news and review site Cruise Critic.
Don Bucolo, who booked his June Bahamas cruise already, said he expects masks, social distancing, reduced capacity and reservations for restaurants to be among the restrictions.
“If they came out and said, ‘Actually, because of vaccinations, it’s going to be 100 percent capacity, no distancing, no masks,’ we would actually pause for a moment and say, ‘We don’t know if that’s the right move at this point,’” he said. “We think there need to be some safety measures in place.”
The CDC does not have jurisdiction over ships that operate outside of U.S. waters without intending to return to U.S. waters. The agency still recommends that all people avoid travel on cruise ships worldwide “because the chance of getting covid-19 on cruise ships is high, since the virus appears to spread more easily between people in close quarters aboard ships.”
CDC guidelines say even vaccinated people should delay travel and stay home to protect themselves and others from the coronavirus. People who are fully vaccinated should still avoid medium and large gatherings, wear a mask, and socially distance in public, the guidance said.
David Freedman, professor emeritus of infectious diseases at University of Alabama at Birmingham and an expert on travel medicine, said since testing isn’t perfect, passengers under 18 could potentially still board a ship when infected and transmit the virus.
“This is a mixed-public environment where you have unvaccinated people,” he said.
Freedman said he was also concerned about how people’s vaccination status would be verified.
“I don’t yet see how you can really be sure that all the people on the ships that say they are vaccinated are really vaccinated,” he said.
Early indications are that many cruise devotees are willing to take the risk — and go the extra mile to fly to the ships.
“Our agents are taking wait lists by hand,” Vicky Garcia, chief operating officer of travel agency franchise network Cruise Planners, said earlier this week before some of the trips opened up for sale. She already booked her own trip on Crystal and bought a plane ticket to St. Maarten to take a Celebrity Cruise.
“The air rates have gone through the roof,” she said.
Crystal Cruises said in a news release last week that it had its biggest day of bookings ever in the 24 hours after opening reservations for its Bahamas sailings.
Steven Christian, 29, an aspiring travel vlogger and new travel agent from Orlando, said he wants to sail this summer but isn’t sure he can afford it between the cost of a flight and the cruise.
“I’ve been looking and I’m interested,” said Christian, a university admissions representative. “The price is kind of up there for right now.” He pointed out that cruises in August and September were cheaper — though they also fall in the busier part of hurricane season.
McDaniel said members of the Cruise Critic community have reacted positively to the new sailings.
“I think that people are missing their ships and missing their cruise brands,” she said, regardless of where those ships will actually go. “Itinerary is secondary to just being back on board.”
Debbi Breslof, a Southwest Florida resident who works in the financial industry, doesn’t care that she has to fly to the Bahamas to get on the Crystal Serenity in July. And port calls aren’t very important to her for this trip either.
“I’m just looking forward to that sense of normal — which, to me, is a Crystal cruise to look forward to,” said Breslof, 60. “I know what I’m going to get, and it’s seven days away from my work-from-home.”
JetBlue and CommonPass Begin Launch of Digital Health Pass with Boston Customers Bound for Aruba.
March 17, 2021 09:00 AM Eastern Daylight Time
NEW YORK--(BUSINESS WIRE)--JetBlue and The Commons Project Foundation, in partnership with the government of Aruba and COVID testing companies Vault and XpresCheck, today announced they have launched the use of the CommonPass platform, https://commonpass.org/ allowing JetBlue customers traveling from Boston’s Logan International Airport to Aruba’s Queen Beatrix International Airport to enter the nation using the CommonPass digital health pass.
The CommonPass platform enables safer travel and easy entry as travelers can simply scan their passports to verify that they meet entry requirements into Aruba.
“Vault’s saliva test has helped thousands of travelers safely get to their destinations during the pandemic through our partnerships with airlines, countries, and states”
The first flight for eligible customers landed Tuesday March 16th in Aruba and will continue for all JetBlue flights from Boston to the island destination. The airline and its partners plan in the coming weeks to expand the use of CommonPass for customers traveling to Aruba from cities throughout JetBlue’s network.
Aruba requires that arriving passengers test negative for COVID-19 either within 72 hours of or upon arrival. Boston customers who utilize JetBlue’s testing partners, Vault for supervised at-home PCR tests or XpresCheck for in-person testing, are now able to streamline the arrival process in Aruba by downloading the CommonPass app in advance of their flight. Upon arrival, CommonPass users will have access to dedicated CommonPass immigration lanes to start their vacation sooner. More testing facilities are expected to be added to the CommonPass platform in the coming weeks and months.
“CommonPass and the CommonTrust Network provide passengers, airlines and governments with a trusted system to digitally verify that an international traveler meets entry requirements upon arrival,” said Paul Meyer, CEO, The Commons Project Foundation. “Our registry of health data sources -- information from labs, pharmacies, hospitals and health departments -- is essential to giving the public the confidence to once again travel, attend events and enjoy activities they did prior to COVID-19.”
The companies announced the partnership late last year. With CommonPass, JetBlue customers can more easily comply with Aruba’s enhanced entry protocols, enabling arriving residents and visitors who have tested negative for COVID-19 to digitally verify their health status, and for visitors to begin their vacation worry-free.
The CommonPass platform lets individuals collect their lab results and vaccination records from health data sources in the CommonTrust Network and demonstrate in a privacy-preserving manner that those records satisfy the health screening requirements of their destinations. CommonPass is being deployed with leading global airlines, while Aruba becomes the first government to adopt the platform to streamline entry into the nation. CommonPass leverages the open, interoperable SMART Health Cards standard being developed under the Vaccination Credential Initiative and is being adopted across the US healthcare ecosystem.
“As one of the first airlines in the world to partner with CommonPass and the CommonTrust Network, we are excited to again lead the way in providing another layer of safety to air travel in the United States and around the world,” said Joanna Geraghty, president and chief operating officer, JetBlue. “Our partners in the Aruban government and the Aruba Tourism Authority have a long history of promoting seamless travel to Aruba, and by using digital health passes to verify that a customer meets entry requirements upon arrival, JetBlue, CommonPass, and Aruba are leveraging leading edge technology to restore both customer confidence and air travel. JetBlue customers traveling to Aruba will enjoy an expedited way to enter the country on arrival, while also having peace of mind that they safely meet Aruba’s entry criteria.”
“Aruba is thrilled to offer Boston, one of our premier markets, the first CommonPass flights to our One happy island,” said Dangui Oduber, Aruba’s Minister of Health, Tourism and Sport. “CommonPass travelers departing from Boston’s Logan International Airport will now arrive in Aruba via the most seamless entry way possible, ensuring their vacation starts the moment they land.”
"Vault’s saliva test has helped thousands of travelers safely get to their destinations during the pandemic through our partnerships with airlines, countries, and states,” said Vault Health Founder & CEO Jason Feldman. “Careful testing is a key to helping people move forward with the vacations and adventures they’ve missed over the past year. We are pleased to continue our partnership with CommonPass, JetBlue, and Aruba to streamline testing for travel, especially internationally. Vault’s test is convenient, quick, and provides accurate results to help keep travelers and residents safe.”
“XpresCheck is uniquely positioned to help open up travel from Boston to Aruba in partnership with CommonPass and JetBlue with on-site airport COVID testing at Boston Logan International Airport,” said Doug Satzman, CEO of XpresSpa Group. “This innovative technology enables a traveler to get tested at the airport before departure with a seamless integration into the CommonPass app, which can reduce time and stress for travelers while increasing safety for the entire flight.”
Easy Steps to Enter Aruba
CommonPass is a digital health app that enables travelers to present standardized, verifiable proof that they have tested negative for COVID-19. The process works like this:
1) Prior to their flight, travelers download the CommonPass app.
2) As part of the partnership with Vault and XpresCheck, travelers can be tested for COVID-19 from home or at the airport.
3) Once tested for COVID-19 and prior to their flight, travelers enter an invitation code into the CommonPass app and upload their COVID-19 test results into CommonPass.
4) All visitors to Aruba must fill out an online ED Card, which includes results of their negative PCR-based molecular COVID-19 test. CommonPass users are able to add their pass ID to pre-verify with Aruba that they are cleared to travel.
5) Upon arrival in Aruba, CommonPass users will have access to dedicated CommonPass immigration lanes to start their vacation sooner.
By Hannah Sampson Washington Post - March 16 2021
The coronavirus pandemic grounded cruise ships. Even as vaccinations roll out, their future remains uncertain in the U.S.
In the year since the cruise industry and public-health officials shut down sailings, operators have extended their cancellations again and again. And again. And again.
Cruises outside the United States have restarted, paused and started anew. And still the question remains: When will cruising resume in the United States?
“Cruise lines are eagerly awaiting an update from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] to outline next steps for a return to service,” Colleen McDaniel, editor in chief of the cruise news site Cruise Critic, said in an email. “The latest positive news around vaccine distribution in the United States could be a step in the right direction, though the true return to significant cruising from the United States is dependent on when the CDC deems it appropriate.”
Big ships are already sailing outside the United States in Singapore and parts of Europe, and more than 360,000 passengers have sailed since last summer, according to Bari Golin-Blaugrund, spokeswoman for the Cruise Lines International Association.
Royal Caribbean announced cruises from Israel starting in May for local residents; all crew and passengers 16 and older must be fully vaccinated. And luxury line Crystal Cruises plans to sail one of its ships around the Bahamas starting in July with vaccinated passengers.
But after several high-profile outbreaks on ships, no one is expecting a return to pre-pandemic-style cruising anytime soon. Where they have started again, cruise lines are requiring negative coronavirus tests, masks and social distancing on board, and less-than-full ships.
Andrew Coggins, a professor at Pace University who teaches cruise industry management, said it remains to be seen if those guidelines will be “compatible with a business model that requires 100-plus-percent occupancy.”
Still, cruise companies say customers are booking for later this year and next. Coggins said he believes travelers will eventually get back on board to the numbers the industry reached before the coronavirus pandemic.
“Much will depend on how smoothly the initial recovery goes,” he said in an email. “Some may not come back, but most will.”
A return date for sailing from U.S. ports is still not known.
Most U.S.-based cruise lines have canceled their sailings through at least the end of May. Norwegian Cruise Line said on Tuesday that it is extending its suspension through June. But when will they actually sail?
“The timing of a return to sailing remains the million-dollar question,” McDaniel said in an email. Operators must meet a series of requirements and milestones as mandated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One catch: They still don’t know all those requirements.
The CDC says its focus remains on protecting crew and working with lines on initial requirements of testing crew and developing onboard lab capacity.
“Future orders and technical instructions will address additional activities to help cruise lines prepare for and return to passenger operations in a manner that mitigates covid-19 risk,” the agency said. Instructions for agreements with ports and local health authorities, the next phase, are expected to be out soon.
But even after more information is available, cruise lines still have to go through a lengthy process of operating simulated test voyages and getting approval to take passengers on sailings.
When they start sailing again, cruise companies have said they will start slowly.
“We plan to start sailing with only a few ships as part of a staggered approach,” said Roger Frizzell, spokesman for industry giant Carnival Corp. “By the end of the year, we hope to have our global fleet sailing.”
One sure bet: Sailings from Alaska will almost certainly not return until 2022. Canada — where foreign-flagged ships must stop during Alaskan sailings — said large cruise ships are not allowed to visit until February.
Small ships are the exception.
There’s almost always a loophole. The CDC order applies to ships that can carry 250 or more passengers and crew members. That means some small U.S.-based operators are allowed to sail. Several small-ship lines have said they plan to cruise in Alaska this summer, though their numbers will amount to the tiniest fraction of a normal year.
American Cruise Lines launched its first cruise of the year on Saturday, a coastal trip from Northeast Florida to Charleston, S.C. The ship, Independence, can hold 100 passengers. Another sailing, this one on a 190-passenger riverboat, is scheduled for Sunday along the lower Mississippi River. All of the line’s initial cruises are capped at 75 percent capacity, and passengers must test negative to board.
American Queen Steamboat Company will start paid cruises at the end of the month after setting sail with charter cruises on the Mississippi this week, according to Cruise Critic.
Vaccinations will be required by at least some cruise lines.
The industry’s biggest operators have not said whether they will require passengers to be vaccinated, though some, including Norwegian and Royal Caribbean, say they expect crew will be inoculated. But a handful of smaller players have already announced vaccine requirements for passengers.
On Tuesday, new cruise line Virgin Voyages became the latest to say it would require vaccinations for passengers and crew. CEO Tom McAlpin made the announcement on “Good Morning America.”
“We think that’s the right thing to do to create that safe environment,” he said.
Small luxury line Crystal Cruises has also said it will require vaccinations, joining Saga Cruises in the United Kingdom. American Queen Steamboat Company and sister line Victory Cruise Lines will require vaccinations starting July 1.
Coggins said he expects more operators to add the requirement, “as another layer of precaution in addition to a negative test.”
Cruise lines have already said they will require testing, onboard distancing and mask-wearing onboard in addition to other safety measures. A CDC spokeswoman told The Washington Post in January that vaccines were not a solution by themselves.
“Vaccination, along with other preventive measures, including testing before and after travel, wearing a mask, social distancing, frequent handwashing, and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, will be another effective strategy available for reducing covid-19 transmission associated with travel, including cruising,” spokeswoman Caitlin Shockey said in an email.
Your favorite ships may be gone forever.
Cruise operators have been looking for ways to reduce expenses and make money while business dried up. In some cases, that means they are getting rid of older, smaller, less-efficient vessels.
Royal Caribbean sold two of its oldest ships, Majesty of the Seas and Empress of the Seas, last year.
And Carnival Corp., which operates cruise lines including Carnival, Princess and Holland America, has said it is getting rid of 19 ships, or 13 percent of its global fleet. The vessels are either being sold to other operators or scrapped.
Cruise die-hards are still booking.
Carnival Corp. said in January that advance bookings for 2022 are strong and are “within the historical range” for the second half of this year.
“The forward booking trends we have consistently experienced throughout this period — in spite of the extended pause in our operations, in spite of our minimal advertising effort and even in spite of the abundance of negative global news — affirm the underlying demand that will facilitate our staggered resumption and support the long-term growth of our company,” CEO Arnold Donald said. “And we have not only seen tremendous support for our brands from our loyal guests, it is also very encouraging to see demand from new guests.”
Royal Caribbean Group’s chief financial officer, Jason Liberty, said in February that the company had seen a 30 percent increase in new bookings since the beginning of the year when compared to the last two months of 2020.
“The volumes that we see on a demand standpoint are, in our perspective, impressive,” he said.
McDaniel said members of Cruise Critic have been enthusiastic about cruising again.
“So many of our members are avid cruisers who cruise multiple times each year,” she said in an email. “It’s a true passion of theirs — and many have had cruises already booked and rebooked several times throughout the past year. Needless to say, they are eager to return to sea when they’re safely able.”
The attached 112 page report looks at the performance of Aruba's tourism sector in 2020, reviews the outlook for the sector in 2021 and presents various scenarios for tourist arrivals in 2021.
The author, Dr. James R. Hepple, is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Hospitality and Tourism Management Studies at the University of Aruba.
ADAM SMITH The Street March 14 2021
Major cities from New York to Tokyo -- and several major industries -- have been hit hard by the drop in tourism over the past year. The pandemic has beaten once-bustling airlines, cruise lines and hotels bloody. Restaurants the world over have been picked off like fallen soldiers.
But, now, with vaccines getting into the arms of millions of people around the globe every day, the end of COVID-19 appears finally in sight.
So, just how quickly can the world expect to see the battered travel and tourism industry get out of the emergency room, bandaged up and wounds healed?
Not for several years -- possibly as far out as 2024.
That's according to a new report by trade-credit issuer Euler Hermes, which shows that the bleeding won't likely stop for some time. In fact, the pandemic will continue to disrupt tourism worldwide, even whacking world events like the delayed Tokyo Olympics, despite chatter of so-called "vaccination passports."
This is bad news for many. Just survey some of the casualties of COVID: More than half the world's pilots are no longer flying, according to a poll conducted earlier this year by GOOSE Recruitment and FlightGlobal. Airlines are scraping by, with Cathay Pacific saying recently it's still in "survival" mode, while American Airlines has labeled 2020 the "most challenging year" in the company’s history.
For insight into when the tourism industry should be fully recuperated, TheStreet spoke with Euler Hermes' economist Marc Livinec, who authored the report, "Tourism: Europe Will Be at the Frontline of the Recovery, But Only in 2024."
The following was conducted by email has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
TheStreet: Many people are talking about this pent-up demand for travel that would suddenly explode as the pandemic winds down. That does not appear to be the case set out in your report, does it?
Livinec: Indeed, we do not expect a quick recovery in travel demand, even if the pandemic seems to wind down. The two main factors that are weighing on any real recovery in the tourism industry are the effectiveness of vaccines in preventing the transmission of the virus and the absence of a common approach by countries around the world. In other words, many states still depend on a personal approach to tackling the outbreak.
TheStreet: It sounds unlikely then that airlines and cruise companies can expect a normal return to business for quite some time, too, right?
Livinec: It does -- and yet they do everything they can to lure tourists back onboard. The International Air Transport Association's latest data show that forward bookings in February for the Northern Hemisphere, summer travel season trips were 78% below levels in February 2019. In a nutshell, 2021 has started off worse than 2020 ended, in spite of rolling-out vaccination programs. New COVID variants are unfortunately leading some governments to increase or to protract travel restrictions. The uncertainty around how long these restrictions will last also has an impact on future travel.
TheStreet: You say Europe could see a faster tourism recovery than the U.S. and Asia Pacific? Why is this, given their later time frame for expected herd immunity?
Livinec: The main reason is that Europe suffered the largest drop in international tourist arrivals, plummeting to 227 million tourists in 2020 from 744 million in 2019. So the rebound is going to be stronger than elsewhere in the world, as lifting of travel bans are getting closer. We also think that EU countries' commitment to finding a common solution of existing travel bans at the same time could help international tourism recover in a better way across the region.
TheStreet: Japan has the delayed Olympics planned and has been building up its tourism industry for years before the pandemic. When do you see its tourism industry returning to normal and how do you think the Olympics would be affected?
Livinec: Japan's population is expected to reach herd immunity by the end of summer 2022. The Olympic Games are scheduled for this summer. So these Olympics are poised to be strongly affected, no matter what by this pandemic. And they are unlikely to help the tourism industry recover, as Japan has just decided to stage these Olympics without overseas spectators due to public concern over COVID-19 and the detection of more contagious variants abroad. Besides, there is a growing risk that a few countries might decide not attend these Olympics eventually out of fear for the health of the athletes. The odds of any cancellation or further postponement at the last minute cannot be excluded.
TheStreet: Talk of so-called tourism "vaccination" passports has been making headlines now. But in your view, is it realistic globally? What are some of the challenges?
Livinec: It is a difficult question. It eventually comes up against rules governing freedom of movement between and across each country. Creating a tourism passport might appear difficult to implement in the end, because it requires the same database to be shared worldwide.... Moreover, unless vaccines against COVID-19 are mandatory, how would a "tourism passport" deal with people who are not vaccinated, either because they are too young or they do not want to be? A person without a vaccine being denied the same freedom of movement as others both domestically and internationally may be very tricky to deal with. I do not even take into account the possibility of seeing the efficacy of current vaccines (weaken against new variants). From that point of view, would a tourism passport be of any use?
TheStreet: How does all of this ripple out to business travel -- meetings, conventions, conferences?
Livinec: It has put a lot of pressure on the business travel segment as we do not see it recover to its pre-crisis levels before a very long time. Working remotely enables people to attend meetings, conventions and conferences without being physically present. According to the U.S. Travel Association's statistics, travel spending for domestic business in the U.S. plummeted from $300 billion to $130 billion between 2019 and 2020. Its forecast for 2021 amounts to $160 billion only. We think that leisure travel will lead the way as business travel will be subdued.
TheStreet: Finally, this is all the best-case scenario, isn't it? This pandemic has taught us not to take anything for granted hasn't it?
Livinec: As this pandemic can be considered as a type of crisis that the modern world has never seen before, we might say that indeed. I can't help but think that flexibility and pragmatism should guide further progress in ensuring countries to come through this very challenging period.
'We want to make Dubai the world’s best place to live in,' says Sheikh Mohammed.
Dubai: His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, on Saturday launched the Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan that maps out a comprehensive future map for sustainable urban development in the city. Aligned with the UAE’s vision for the next 50 years, the Plan is focused on enhancing people’s happiness and quality of life.
The plan focuses on reinforcing Dubai’s competitiveness as a global destination by providing a wide diversity of lifestyle and investment opportunities for citizens, residents and visitors over the next 20 years. Designed to realise Sheikh Mohammed’s vision to make Dubai the city with the world’s best quality of life, the plan aims to provide the highest standards of urban infrastructure and facilities.
Sheikh Mohammed said the visionary development journey started by the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum in the sixties continues to guide Dubai’s evolution into a city that promotes the greatest human values and possibilities and an environment where people from around the world can thrive.
“Our strategic development plans are focused on creating the best possible environment and infrastructure to enhance the community’s happiness and wellbeing and support the fulfilment of the greatest human aspirations for both our citizens and people from around the world. Our goal is to create a truly inclusive environment that not only meets the needs of Dubai’s diverse population, but also inspires them to tap into their creative and innovative capacities and realise their true potential," Sheikh Mohammed said.
“By constantly striving to raise benchmarks and implementing diligent strategic planning, we have joined the ranks of the world’s leaders in various spheres and sectors. With a clear vision and a deep understanding of what it takes to succeed in an evolving global environment, we continue to work to shape an even greater future rich with opportunities,” Sheikh Mohammed added.
Five minute video explaining the 2040 Master Plan
The new Master Plan is the seventh such plan developed for the emirate since 1960.Image Credit: Twitter
The Dubai Urban Master Plan is focused on development and investment in five main urban centres.
The launch of the Plan was attended by Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai; Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, Chairman of Dubai Airports and Chairman and Chief Executive of Emirates Airline and Group; Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairman of Dubai Media Council; members of the Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan Higher Committee, and leaders from Dubai government.
The new Master Plan is the seventh such plan developed for the emirate since 1960. Between 1960 and 2020, the population of Dubai has multiplied 80 times from 40,000 in 1960 to 3.3 million by the end of 2020 and increased in cultural diversity to include people from over 200 nationalities. The urban and built area of the emirate increased 170-fold from 3.2 square km in the same period.
Enhanced quality of life
The Plan envisages upgrading Dubai’s urban areas, with development mainly focused on five key centres. Some of the key priorities include improving the efficiency of resource utilisation, developing vibrant, healthy and inclusive communities, and doubling green and leisure areas as well as public parks to provide a healthy environment for residents and visitors.
The new Master Plan also seeks to provide sustainable and flexible means of mobility as well a foster greater economic activity and attract foreign investments to new sectors. Other objectives include enhancing environmental sustainability, safeguarding the emirate’s cultural and urban heritage and developing a comprehensive legislation and planning governance model.
Five urban centres
The Dubai Urban Master Plan is focused on development and investment in five main urban centres (three existing and two new centres) that support growth of economic sectors and increased job opportunities for its diverse population, in addition to providing an wide range of lifestyle facilities that cater to the needs of all sections of the population. The existing urban centres include Deira and Bur Dubai, historic areas that highlight the emirate’s tradition and heritage; the business and financial heart of the city encompassing Downtown and Business Bay; the hospitality and leisure centre encompassing the Dubai Marina and JBR that serves as an international tourism and leisure hub. The two new centres include Expo 2020 Centre, an economic and growth hotspot featuring affordable housing and a focal point for the exhibitions, tourism and logistics sectors; and Dubai Silicon Oasis Centre, a science and technology and knowledge hub that drives innovation, digital economy development and talent generation.
Equitable access to facilities
The new Master Plan has defined an integrated approach to the development of the urban centres by providing equitable access to facilities, services and opportunities across the city for all residents.
HIERARCHY OF COMMUNITIES
Depending on urbanisation levels, the Master Plan defines a hierarchy of communities in the city. The largest of them, the emirate, includes the five main ‘towns’ built around each of the five main urban centres with a population of 1 to 1.5 million, followed by the multi sector with a population of between 300,000 and 400,000; the sector with a population of between 70,000 and 125,000; the district with a population of between 20,000 and 30,000; the community with a population from 6,000 to 12,000 and finally the neighbourhood, with a population between 2,000 and 4,000. Based on these levels, infrastructure and transit systems, energy and government services, and facilities such as hospitals, schools, service centres, and leisure centres will be provided across Dubai.
According to recent studies, the number of Dubai residents is expected to increase from 3.3 million in 2020 to 5.8 million by 2040, while the day-time population is set to increase from 4.5 million in 2020 to 7.8 million in 2040. The Master Plan focuses on utilising available spaces within the limits of the current city and concentrating development in existing urban areas. Easily accessible integrated service centres will be established across Dubai to ensure that the needs of all sections of the population are catered to. The plan seeks to raise the quality of life of the city while increasing population densities around key mass transit stations.
Growth rooted in sustainability.
Along with its Urban Master Plan 2040, Dubai will issue an integrated and flexible urban planning law that supports sustainable development and growth, taking into consideration the future aspirations of the emirate’s diverse population. The Master Plan features a model for integrated governance of the urban planning system that streamlines the mutual relationships and responsibilities of all stakeholders.
GREEN SPACES TO DOUBLE
Under the Plan, green and recreational spaces and areas dedicated to public parks will double in size to serve the growing number of number of residents and visitors. Nature reserves and rural natural areas will constitute 60 per cent of the emirate’s total area. Several green corridors will be established to link the service areas, residential areas and workplaces, facilitate the movement of pedestrians, bicycles, and sustainable mobility means across the city, in coordination with developers and government departments.
And the land area devoted to tourism will increase by 134%.
The land area used for hotels and tourist activities will increase by 134 per cent, while that used for commercial activities will increase to 168 square kilometres. Dubai will continue to be a global hub for innovative start-ups, international corporations, and strategic investments. The Master Plan will also increase the land area allocated to education and health facilities by 25 per cent, while the length of public beaches will increase by as much as 400 per cent in 2040 to increase the quality of life for residents and visitors.
The new Plan will raise the efficiency of development and promote the optimal utilisation of the infrastructure by developing vacant urban spaces. The Master Plan aims to encourage mass transit use, walking, cycling and the use of flexible means of transportation, besides developing a comprehensive planning database to support decision-making and enhance transparency.
The Dubai Urban Master Plan 2040 integrates the Hatta Development Plan, which has created a framework for the comprehensive development of the area. The Plan seeks to both develop and raise the profile of Hatta’s natural and tourism attractions, as well as protect its environment in partnership with the private sector. The Hatta Development Plan will offer people in the locality the opportunity to participate in efforts to promote tourism and preserve the natural beauty and identity of the area.
The Plan also seeks to develop integrated sustainable housing complexes to meet the needs of citizens. The 2040 Urban Master Plan will develop integrated communities according to the highest planning standards, with green spaces, commercial centres and recreational facilities aimed at enhancing human well-being.
NEWS PROVIDED BY IMF
March 12, 2021,
By Krishna Srinivasan, Sònia Muñoz, and Ding Ding
Many Caribbean countries risk becoming COVID-19 economic long-haulers. Much the same as some patients could suffer from lingering illnesses long after the corona virus infection has passed, the pandemic’s economic fallout might be felt in the region long after the health emergency is controlled.
The reason is that most of its countries rely heavily on tourism. Due to their small size and limited room for maneuver, Caribbean economies were among the most affected by the pandemic. With annual hotel stays plummeting by 70 percent and cruise ship travel completely halted, tourism-dependent countries contracted by 9.8 percent in 2020. Commodity exporters in the region (Trinidad & Tobago, Suriname, and Guyana) were less affected and saw a mild contraction of 0.2 percent.
Most Caribbean countries managed to contain the virus’ spread initially, and reopened to international travelers in the second half of 2020. But renewed waves of infections and travel restrictions in the countries where most visitors normally come from (US, UK, and Canada) have put a much hoped-for tourism rebound in check.
This could lead to significant long-term scarring: loss of jobs hitting mostly youth, women, and less educated workers; increases in poverty and inequality; potential closings and bankruptcies of hotels, resorts and associated tourism services (restaurants, shops and tour operators); fewer flights to and within the region as airlines struggle to recover; and loss of global ‘market share’ if cruise operators permanently reroute ships to other destinations.
The international community has delivered substantial financial support to help the Caribbean fund unprecedented public spending needs. This support helped alleviate near-term pressures, but many countries still face a gap due to growing fiscal deficits and tightening borrowing conditions as the crisis persists.
Assuming no new external financing and realistic tourism scenarios, we estimate the region’s financing gap at around $4 billion, or 4.8 percent of 2020 regional GDP. The ever-present risk of natural disasters could make it even wider.
Avoiding the long-term effects and seizing the global recovery will require a nimble combination of short- and medium-term policies.
Protecting lives and livelihoods remains the priority. Spending on treatment, testing, contact tracing, and vaccine access is imperative to limit the economic scarring. Many Caribbean nations have joined the COVAX initiative and have made bilateral agreements to obtain additional vaccines, although coverage is still low. Given the logistical challenges and the lack of economies of scale at the national level, strong regional collaboration is key to ensure efficient vaccine distribution.
Economic support should be sustained until the recovery is entrenched, including measures to safeguard financial stability. To create space for such support and to rebuild buffers, governments should accelerate progress on strengthening fiscal policy frameworks. The extension of the G20's Debt Service Suspension Initiative until June 2021 provides some relief for countries with large borrowing needs and debt sustainability concerns. Securing additional IMF financial support early on could help smooth adjustment by bridging near-term financing gaps; catalyze additional international resources; provide a macroeconomic stability anchor; and support deeper reforms that deliver sustainable and inclusive growth.
Once the recovery takes hold, countries should tackle their debt problems. Restoring debt sustainability will require well-calibrated and appropriately balanced revenue and expenditure measures to reduce the primary deficits while minimizing the contractionary impact on growth, as well as greater efforts to mobilize concessional financing to help build resilience against future shocks. These efforts should be complemented with structural reforms to strengthen competitiveness and raise long-run growth.
At the regional level, the Caribbean Community has launched a Caribbean Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan to develop a financing strategy to support post-pandemic investment needs. The IMF is partnering with the broader international community to find innovative solutions to help small developing states to confront these enormous challenges.
Caribbean countries will need to adapt to the post-pandemic international tourism market. A shift to eco-sustainable tourism with lower density, higher value-added, and greater integration with local suppliers may allow countries to reduce the potential health risks currently associated with mass travel.
The region could also harness its “blue economy” potential (sustainable use of ocean resources) by increasing investment in shipping, fisheries, and aquaculture. Countries should continue to pursue technological innovation, such as digitalization and fintech, to improve efficiency, reduce cross-border transfers costs, and facilitate international trade. It is also important not to forget that advancing regional integration—an important and long-standing goal to face common challenges--would help Caribbean economies build greater scale and stronger resilience against future shocks.
UNWTO - March 8th 2021
One in three destinations worldwide are now completely closed to international tourism. According to the latest data from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the emergence of new variants of the COVID-19 virus has prompted many governments to reverse efforts to ease restrictions on travel, with total closures to tourists most prevalent in Asia and the Pacific and Europe.
The UNWTO Travel Restrictions Report provides a comprehensive overview of the regulations in place in 217 destinations worldwide. While previous editions had shown a movement towards easing or lifting restrictions on travel, the latest report shows that the persistent seriousness of the epidemiological situation has caused governments to adopt a more cautious approach.
For full UNWTO report click below.
DÁNICA COTO Associated Press
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The Caribbean is hunting for visitors and vaccines to jump-start the stalled economy in one of the world’s most tourism-dependent regions.
Clear waters and warm sand attracted a record 31.5 million tourists to the Caribbean in 2019, but visits plummeted by an estimated 60% to 80% as the pandemic hit last year. That's devastating for a region whose countries depend heavily on visitors for income.
“Many countries prefer hurricanes compared to what has happened with the pandemic,” said Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, a former Bahamian tourism minister who also led the Caribbean Tourism Organization.
Tens of thousands of tourism-related jobs were lost, including those held by Nadia Kidd and her mother in Jamaica. Kidd, 31, was a waitress at a resort and her mother worked at a guest house. Kidd, like many other workers, has yet to receive her severance pay and now runs a tiny grocery store out of her home to support her mother and daughter.
“Everything is all on me,” said Kidd, who worked at the Meliá Braco Village resort in Trelawny. “I have loans to pay, light bill and internet (that I) have to pay because my daughter has to go to school online.”
Desperate to create safe conditions for tourism, the Caribbean is turning to India and China for vaccines at a time when global supplies are strained and richer nations are ahead of them in line for shots from other sources. A few have been fortunate to get quick shipments, while others could wait weeks, if not months.
The Caribbean saw COVID-19 levels rising in November, along with variants feared to be more contagious. More than 522,000 cases and more than 7,500 deaths have been reported in 35 of the region's countries and territories.
“The rate of increase has been alarming,” said Dr. Joy St. John, executive director of the Trinidad-based Caribbean Public Health Agency.
The small nations adopted a variety of anti-virus measures, nearly all requiring visitors at a minimum to show recent negative tests upon arrival.
Cuba — the largest Caribbean nation and the only one working on its own vaccines — choked off arrivals after seeing infections surge. It requires visitors to stay in designated hotels and to take new tests upon landing.
International travelers to St. Kitts and Nevis must stay at certain hotels, and St. Eustatius requires visitors to register their reason for traveling before giving approval.
Many islands ask visitors to isolate, though how long and under what conditions can vary: Those arriving in the Cayman Islands or Barbados must stay inside a hotel for at least a week or face jail. Others, like Puerto Rico, don't require quarantine if a negative test is presented upon arrival, and tourists can roam the U.S. territory's beaches and forests.
Aruba, Anguilla, Curacao and Montserrat and others have promoted themselves as havens for those who can work by internet from a room by the sea, although officials can be harsh on visitors who flout virus restrictions.
At least 13 countries in the region have signed up for the World Health Organization’s COVAX program, created to ensure access to COVID-19 shots for low- and middle-income countries.
Among those is Jamaica, which had pursued an aggressive reopening to tourism despite not receiving a single shipment of vaccines. But officials have announced they are closing public beaches and rivers until March 22.
Its government says it expects to receive 50,000 vaccines from India this week and 14,400 AstraZeneca vaccines next week via the COVAX program. It also anticipates receiving 1.8 million vaccine doses by April via the African Medical Supply Platform, a nonprofit initiative by the African Union.
Despite those pending vaccines, Alica Brown said she would not return to the tourism industry. The 34-year-old has not found a job since she was laid off last year as a supervisor at a resort, forcing her to move in with her family and dip into her savings.
“The pandemic has opened my eyes so much,” said Brown, who is considering a venture into farming. “It’s made me realize that no job is safe, especially tourism jobs because when something like this happens, and tourists cannot travel, how will we survive?”
Others, like Cranston Calnick, said he is waiting for the resort where he worked as a waiter to reopen next month. The 29-year-old said that in the meantime, he has been picking fruit and selling it on the street: “This is how I have been surviving.”
Unlike Jamaica, other islands have been luckier, having received AstraZeneca doses under India’s “Vaccine Friendship” program. That vaccine’s protocol requires two shots per person.
Dominica, an eastern Caribbean island of 74,500 people that is still struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria in 2017, got 70,000 doses last month and has begun vaccinations.
“I did not fancy my chances of getting such a swift, positive response to my request,” said Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit. The country has shared some of the doses with other nations, including Grenada and St. Kitts and Nevis.
Dominica also is due to receive doses from China and the COVAX program.
Barbados, with some 300,000 people, received 100,000 doses from India, and the prime minister thanked New Delhi for its “quick, decisive and magnanimous action.” Barbados donated 2,000 doses to Trinidad and Tobago. That twin-island nation of 1.2 million remains under strict virus restrictions and has requested 250,000 doses from India.
India also has helped the Dominican Republic and Antigua and Barbuda, but the region remains far short of what is needed to achieve herd immunity for the over 18 million people in the Caribbean Community trade bloc.
“We knew from past history and from human behavior that it could have been possible ... that the strong ones would eat first and the weaker ones would starve to death,” said Keith Rowley, Caricom chairman and prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago.
Jim Hepple is an Assistant Professor at the University of Aruba and is Managing Director of Tourism Analytics.