The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced that passenger traffic fell in February 2021, both compared to pre-COVID levels (February 2019) and compared to the immediate month prior (January 2021).
Because comparisons between 2021 and 2020 monthly results are distorted by the extraordinary impact of COVID-19, unless otherwise noted all comparisons are to February 2019, which followed a normal demand pattern.
Total demand for air travel in February 2021 (measured in revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) was down 74.7% compared to February 2019. That was worse than the 72.2% decline recorded in January 2021 versus two years ago.
International passenger demand in February was 88.7% below February 2019, a further drop from the 85.7% year-to-year decline recorded in January and the worst growth outcome since July 2020. Performance in all regions worsened compared to January 2021.
Total domestic demand was down 51.0% versus pre-crisis (February 2019) levels. In January it was down 47.8% on the 2019 period. This largely was owing to weakness in China travel, driven by government requests that citizens stay at home during the Lunar New Year travel period.
“February showed no indication of a recovery in demand for international air travel. In fact, most indicators went in the wrong direction as travel restrictions tightened in the face of continuing concerns over new coronavirus variants. An important exception was the Australian domestic market. A relaxation of restrictions on domestic flying resulted in significantly more travel. This tells us that people have not lost their desire travel. They will fly, provided they can do so without facing quarantine measures,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.
RPK) % of industry RPKs in 2020 PLF % PT) Change in load factor vs. the same month in 2019 PLF Level) Load Factor Level
International Passenger Markets
Asia-Pacific airlines’ February traffic was down 95.2% compared to February 2019, little changed from the 94.8% decline registered for January 2021 compared to January 2019. The region continued to suffer from the steepest traffic declines for an eighth consecutive month. Capacity was down 87.5% and the load factor sank 50.0 percentage points to 31.1%, the lowest among regions.
European carriers recorded an 89.0% decline in traffic in February versus February 2019, substantially worse than the 83.4% decline in January compared to the same month in 2019. Capacity sank 80.5% and load factor fell by 36.0 percentage points to 46.4%.
Middle Eastern airlines saw demand fall 83.1% in February compared to February 2019, worsened from an 82.1% demand drop in January, versus the same month in 2019. Capacity fell 68.6%, and load factor declined 33.4 percentage points to 39.0%.
North American carriers’ February traffic sank 83.1% compared to the 2019 period, a deterioration from a 79.2% decline in January year to year. Capacity sagged 63.9%, and load factor dropped 41.9 percentage points to 36.7%.
Latin American airlines experienced an 83.5% demand drop in February, compared to the same month in 2019, markedly worse than the 78.5% decline in January 2019. February capacity was 75.4% down compared to February 2019 and load factor dropped 26.7 percentage points to 54.6%, highest among the regions for a fifth consecutive month.
African airlines’ traffic dropped 68.0% in February versus February two years ago, which was a setback compared to a 66.1% decline recorded in January compared to January 2019. February capacity contracted 54.6% versus February 2019, and load factor fell 20.5 percentage points to 49.1%.
Domestic Passenger Markets
RPK) % of industry RPKs in 2020 PLF % PT) Change in load factor vs. the same month in 2019 PLF Level) Load Factor Level
Australia’s domestic traffic was down 60.5% in February compared to February 2019, dramatically improved compared to the 77.3% decline in January over 2019. Some state border restrictions were eased in early February.
US domestic traffic declined 56.1% in February versus the same month in 2019, improved from the 58.4% decline in January compared to two years ago. The improvement was driven by falling rates of contagion and accelerating vaccinations.
The Bottom Line
“The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently stated that vaccinated individuals can travel safely. That is good news. We have also recently seen Oxera-Edge Health research highlighting the efficacy of fast, accurate and affordable rapid tests for COVID-19. These developments should reassure governments that there are ways to efficiently manage the risks of COVID-19 without relying on demand-killing quarantine measures and/or expensive and time-consuming PCR testing,” said Walsh.
“Two key components for an efficient restart of travel need to be urgently progressed. The first is the development of global standards for digital COVID-19 test and/or vaccination certificates. The second is government agreement to accept certificates digitally. Our experiences to date already demonstrate that paper-based systems are not a sustainable option. They are vulnerable to fraud. And, even with the limited amount of flying today, the check-in process needs pre-COVID-19 staffing levels just to handle the paperwork.
Paper processes will not be sustainable when travel ramps up. The IATA Travel Pass app was developed precisely in anticipation of this need to manage health credentials digitally. Its first full implementation trial is focused on Singapore, where the government has already announced that it will accept health certificates through the app. This will be an essential consideration for all governments when they are ready to relink their economies with the world through air travel,” said Walsh.
Lebawit Lily Girma, Skift
- Apr 09, 2021 9:00 am
It’s a backyard tourism boon for the often-overlooked U.S. territory in the Caribbean, where more Americans are flocking. USVI’s successful Covid-control could also lead to the first use of in-country vaccine certificates to revive carnival later this month — while tackling local vaccine resistance.
In an ordinary tourism year, the visitor revenue numbers that the U.S. Virgin Islands is experiencing would be great, particularly after a rebound from 2017 twin hurricanes. In the middle of a pandemic year, however, they are extraordinary — perhaps as extraordinary as the territory’s overlooked ability to keep Covid infections well below five percent.
In 2020, the USVI received 415,749 air arrivals or just a 35.1 percent reduction from 2019. By contrast, the rest of the Caribbean experienced 65.5 percent stayover decline.
Hotels are currently at over 90 percent occupancy, according to the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism, and average daily rates climbed 43.3. percent in 2020. February 2021 hotel tax revenues reached $1.85 million or only a 28 percent decline from $2.5 million in February 2020.
Being a U.S. territory and having a 1.5 percent Covid positivity rate has given the archipelago even more appeal among vaccinated American travelers seeking to escape the mainland in search of beaches and nature, while facing fewer restrictions upon return. A recent TripAdvisor Spring travel survey revealed that the U.S. Virgin Islands occupied three of the top 10 spots for the fastest growing destinations for Americans. They include St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix.
To boot, as of last month, vaccine tourism is on the rise — an unintended consequence of tourists discovering easy jab access in the first American jurisdiction to open vaccination to the general population.
USVI Tourism Commissioner Joseph Boschulte said it was “a mixed reaction” when news reports last month touted the ability to receive jabs in the Virgin Islands while on vacation.
“We are not marketing for vaccine tourism seekers — our objective is to reconnect with paradise, have fun while on vacation,” said Boschulte, adding that it wasn’t turning them away either as long as supplies were available for locals.
“We are like many African American or Caribbean American people that are a little hesitant to take the vaccine, so we don’t want to have a situation where, because our usage levels are lower than expected, that our allocations into the future get impacted.”
Vaccinated tourists ultimately provide an extra layer of protection for residents — and an extra boost to the tourism economy as a result of prolonged stays. Jabs aside, the archipelago’s U.S. flag advantage is boosting USVI’s tourism industry.
“We do believe the overnight success that we see now is going to extend into the summer and into the winter season, and into the foreseeable future,” said Boschulte, noting that a lot of the travelers the USVI was now receiving was a direct result of the pandemic. “It’s a U.S. territory — your cell phone, your health card, your ATMs work here so if you did happen to get sick and stuck, you feel better to get home.”
FLIGHT CAPACITY AHEAD OF 2019 LEVELS
As of April 2021, the USVI is averaging 27 flights a day into St. Thomas from the mainland, and six into St. Croix, originating from all corners of the U.S., including Boston, New York, Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta and Florida.
A slew of increased airlift to the Virgin Islands is planned for the summer, including 20 percent more American Airlines seats to St. Croix.
“We are a little ahead of where we were [high season, pre-Covid] and that is a very big mark for us,” Boschulte said. What used to be an average of 28,000-29,000 seats a week into St Thomas is currently at 31,000 seats, while St. Croix has just over 9,000 plus seats a day compared to a previous 7,800-8,100.
“So both districts are ahead of where we were in the best of times pre-hurricane season, in terms of airlift into the territory, which is the driver of our economy right now because we have not had cruise ships.”
SKYROCKETING DEMAND SHAPE MARKETING PLANS
For the first time in years, the U.S. Virgin Islands ranks at the top in terms of Caribbean travel demand, from load factor to revenue per available room and occupancy.
Given the predicted blockbuster summer ahead for the US leisure traveler, USVI would take advantage of its foothold in tourism recovery to market aggressively for the 2021-2022 winter season. Boschulte said that the rest of the Caribbean region was likely to be more fully open than it is now by the winter season, signaling competition ahead for the USVI.
This has meant in-person marketing activities in Texas so far, and in the northeast in coming months, including the tri-state Washington D.C. area.
High demand is also reflected in short-term rentals. Boschulte noted that the sharing economy allowed USVI to rebound from the 2017 hurricanes as well as handle the pandemic’s tourism surge on the archipelago. To date, not all hotels have recovered from the twin hurricanes and some properties remain under renovation. “There’s no way we could sustain that type of demand if we didn’t have the sharing economy.”
In 2019, Airbnb room occupancy tax collections totaled $2,647,431 or a 94.9 percent gain from the prior year. USVI Department of Tourism said 2020 numbers were not yet available.
“It’s getting to the point where you can ask your price because people can’t rent without you,” Renee Petrillo said, owner of Rent Renee!, a virtual assistant service that moved into cleaning for short-term rentals. “The turnover has been really insane. I’ve gone to this because that’s where the money is.”
A subset of the sharing economy is yacht charters, as more companies such as The Moorings relocate to the USVI. According to the department of tourism, 2020-2021 marine revenue numbers are forecasted to show deep growth, amounting to annual direct and indirect contributions for all USVI-based charter yachts of an estimated $88 million, compared to $45 million in 2019.
VACCINE CERTIFICATES COULD BRING BACK EVENTS — AND BOOST UPTAKE
Just as Israel is requiring vaccine certificates for access to indoor restaurants and activities, the USVI is considering adopting a similar approach for its live entertainment events. It could become the first destination in the Caribbean region to require vaccine certificates to help restart events and festivals, which are a critical part of the cultural fabric and a USVI tourism revenue boost.
“I do believe that is a very likely possibility if only to use as a marketing tool to get more people to get vaccinated,” Boschulte said, noting the example of the upcoming USVI’s carnival in St. Thomas, at the end of April.
Although scheduled as a one-day virtual event this year, Boschulte said that USVI is also contemplating a vaccinated in-person masked Carnival fete for 150 people per capacity rules. And you only can come in if you’re verified to be vaccinated, so you can’t even buy a ticket to come if you’re not vaccinated.”
This would allow some return of live entertainment in the USVI and the Caribbean region. It would also give an incentive to the younger crowds to vaccinate.
“What we’re trying to do is get them to say, hey, you’re telling me that I may be able to hang out in May and June if I get vaccinated?” Boschulte said. “We know that we have segments of our young local population – 30 and below — that are not signed up to get vaccinated.”
Signs of vaccine certificate requirements have also popped up in sports events. “The USVI soccer federation recently held a match [on March 27, 2021] and they were allowing 200 spectators but every spectator had to produce a vaccine card,” Rob DeRocker said, a marketing consultant and homeowner on St. Croix.
A FUTURE REDUCED DEPENDENCE ON TOURISM
Last month, the Virgin Islands Economic Development Authority unveiled the territory’s new future economic strategy or Vision 2040 Plan. One of its most startling features is that despite the visitor industry contributing an estimated 60 percent to the USVI gross domestic tourism product, tourism is listed last among future goals that otherwise focus on agriculture, blue economy, healthcare and renewable energy, among others,
“One of the major tenets of that study was to find ways to become less dependent on tourism,” Boschulte said, noting that part of that government decision was the result of the pandemic delaying the restart of cruise tourism, which used to make up 1.4 million arrivals into St. Thomas, as well as the 2017 hurricanes.
“Our focus has pivoted heavily toward overnight guests and the marine traveler, away from cruise.”
The plan revealed that day trippers represented 80 percent of tourists to USVI with only 37 percent of expenditures, whereas longer-stay tourists accounted for 20 percent of visitors and 63 percent of revenue. As a result, the USVI plans to push for a more sustainable tourism model focusing on experiential tourism and long term travelers.
At a weekly press briefing on Tuesday, USVI Governor Albert Bryant, Jr. said its administration went back to look at the data on vaccinated people, and that less than six percent put down a non-local address. Bryant said that vaccine availability has not been affected and remained available to anyone above the age of 16.
“If you’re from Dominican Republic, if you’re from Haiti or wherever you’re from, you don’t have your papers — you don’t need them … you’re fully safe, no immigration concerns, we just want to make sure that everyone in our community is safe.”
Vaccine rollouts in some countries have a long-locked-down world dreaming of travels abroad again. But they have also set off a fraught debate about the fairness of a two-tier system for haves and have-nots.
By Mark Landler New York Times.
April 9, 2021
LONDON — For Aruba, a Caribbean idyll that has languished since the pandemic drove away its tourists, the concept of a “vaccine passport” is not just intriguing. It is a “lifeline,” said the prime minister, Evelyn Wever-Croes.
Aruba is already experimenting with a digital certificate that allows visitors from the United States who tested negative for the coronavirus to breeze through the airport and hit the beach without delay. Soon, it may be able to fast-track those who arrive with digital confirmation that they have been vaccinated.
“People don’t want to stand in line, especially with social distancing,” Ms. Wever-Croes said in an interview this week. “We need to be ready in order to make it hassle-free and seamless for the travelers.”
Vaccine passports are increasingly viewed as the key to unlocking the world after a year of pandemic-induced lockdowns — a few bytes of personal health data, encoded on a chip, that could put an end to suffocating restrictions and restore the freewheeling travel that is a hallmark of the age of globalization. From Britain to Israel, these passports are taking shape or already in use.
But they are also stirring complicated political and ethical debates about discrimination, inequality, privacy and fraud. And at a practical level, making them work seamlessly around the globe will be a formidable technical challenge.
The debate may play out differently in tourism- or trade-dependent outposts like Aruba and Singapore, which view passports primarily as a tool to reopen borders, than it will in vast economies like the United States or China, which have starkly divergent views on civil liberties and privacy.
The Biden administration said this week that it would not push for a mandatory vaccination credential or a federal vaccine database, attesting to the sensitive political and legal issues involved. In the European Union and Britain, which have taken tentative steps toward vaccine passports, leaders are running into thorny questions over their legality and technical feasibility.
And in Japan, which has lagged the United States and Britain in vaccinating its population, the debate has scarcely begun. There are grave misgivings there about whether passports would discriminate against people who cannot get a shot for medical reasons or choose not to be vaccinated.
Japan, like other Asian countries, has curbed the virus mainly through strict border controls.
“Whether or not to get vaccinated is up to the individual,” said Japan’s health minister, Norihisa Tamura. “The government should respond so that people won’t be disadvantaged by their decision.”
Still, almost everywhere, the pressure to restart international travel is forcing the debate. With tens of millions of people vaccinated, and governments desperate to reopen their economies, businesses and individuals are pushing to regain more freedom of movement. Verifying whether someone is inoculated is the simplest way to do that.
“There’s a very important distinction between international travel and domestic uses,” said Paul Meyer, the founder of the Commons Project, a nonprofit trust that is developing CommonPass, a scannable code that contains Covid testing and vaccination data for travelers. Aruba was the first government to sign up for it.
“There doesn’t seem to be any pushback on showing certification if I want to travel to Greece or Cyprus,” he said, pointing out that schools require students to be vaccinated against measles and many countries demand proof of yellow fever vaccinations. “From a public health perspective, it’s not fair to say, ‘You have no right to check whether I’m going to infect you.’”
CommonPass is one of multiple efforts by technology companies and others to develop reliable, efficient systems to verify the medical status of passengers — a challenge that will deepen as more people resume traveling.
At Heathrow Airport in London, which is operating at a fraction of its normal capacity, arriving passengers have had to line up for hours while immigration officials check whether they have proof of a negative test result and have purchased a mandatory kit to test themselves twice more after they enter the country.
Saudi Arabia announced this week that pilgrims visiting the mosques in Mecca and Medina during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan would have to show proof on a mobile app of being “immunized,” which officials defined as having been fully vaccinated, having gotten a single dose of a vaccine at least 14 days before arrival, or having recovered from Covid.
In neighboring United Arab Emirates, residents can show their vaccination status on a certificate through a government-developed app. So far, the certificate is not yet widely required for anything beyond entering the capital, Abu Dhabi, from abroad.
Few countries have gone farther in experimenting with vaccine passports than Israel. It is issuing a “Green Pass” that allows people who are fully vaccinated to go to bars, restaurants, concerts and sporting events. Israel has vaccinated more than half its population and the vast majority of its older people, which makes such a system useful but raises a different set of questions.
With people under 16 not yet eligible for the vaccine, the system could create a generational divide, depriving young people of access to many of the pleasures of their elders. So far, enforcement of the Green Pass has been patchy, and in any event, Israel has kept its borders closed.
So has China, which remains one of the most sealed-off countries in the world. In early March, the Chinese government announced it would begin issuing an “international travel health certificate,” which would record a user’s vaccination status, as well as the results of antibody tests. But it did not say whether the certificate would spare the user from China’s draconian quarantines.
Nor is it clear how eager other countries would be to recognize China’s certificate, given that Chinese companies have been slow in disclosing data from clinical trials of their homegrown vaccines.
Singapore has also maintained strict quarantines, even as it searches for way to restart foreign travel. Last week, it said it would begin rolling out a digital health passport, allowing passengers to use a mobile app to share their coronavirus test results before flying into the island nation.
Like China, Singapore has not said whether that would be enough to avoid quarantine. The heavy focus on international travel points up another inconsistency in the use of passports: between those who can afford to travel freely overseas and those who continue to live under onerous restrictions at home.
Free movement across borders is the goal of the European Union’s “Digital Green Certificate.” The European Commission last month set out a plan for verifying vaccination status, which would allow a person to travel freely within the bloc. It left it up to its 27 member states to decide how to collect the health data.
That could avoid the pitfalls of the European Union’s vaccine rollout, which was heavily managed by Brussels and has been far slower than that in the United States or Britain. Yet analysts noted that in data collection, there is a trade-off between decentralized and centralized systems: the former tends to be better at protecting privacy but less efficient; the latter, more intrusive but potentially more effective.
“Given the very unequal access to vaccines we are witnessing in continental Europe, there is also an issue of equal opportunity and potential discrimination,” said Andrea Renda, a senior research fellow at the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels.
For some countries, the legal and ethical implications have been a major stumbling block to domestic use of a passport. As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada put it last month, “There are questions of fairness and justice.”
And yet in Britain, which has a deeply rooted aversion to national ID cards, the government is moving gingerly in that direction. Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week outlined broad guidelines for a Covid certificate, which would record vaccination status, test results, and whether the holder had recovered from Covid, which confers a degree of natural immunity for an unknown duration.
Mr. Johnson insisted that shops, pubs and restaurants would not be required to demand the certificate, though they could opt to do so on their own. That did not stop dozens of lawmakers, from his Conservative Party and the opposition Labour Party, from opposing the plan on grounds that were legal, ethical and plainly commercial — that it could keep people out of the country’s beloved pubs.
Government officials now suggest that the plan is targeted less at pubs and restaurants and more at higher-risk settings, like nightclubs and sporting events.
“Would we rather have a system where no one can go to a sports ground or theater?” said Jonathan Sumption, a former justice on Britain’s Supreme Court, who has been an outspoken critic of the government’s strict lockdowns. “It’s better to have a vaccine passport than a blanket rule which excludes these pleasures from everybody.”
The United States Government’s Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration’s National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO) recently released the figures for U.S. citizens outbound travel from the USA to International Regions for calendar year 2020.
In March of 2020, the US Federal Government began to strongly discourage its residents from traveling overseas in an effort to slow down the rate of infections spread by returning residents (and from non-resident travelers visiting from overseas) while, at the same time, many countries outside the USA closed their borders to incoming tourists. These restrictions began to be slowly relaxed commencing in late June 2020.
The numbers for air traffic both to and from all international regions (on US and foreign flagged carriers) are reported to the NTTO by means of the “U.S. International Air Travel Statistics Report”. For more details of this survey go to https://www.trade.gov/us-international-air-travel-statistics-i-92-data
As can be seen: -
Included in Caribbean for APIS:
British Virgin Islands.
Grand Cayman (Cayman Islands)
Netherlands Antilles (including Bonaire, Curacao and Sint Maarten)
Travel by US Residents to the Caribbean by Month 2020.
Total Travel by US Residents Overseas by Month 2020.
Caribbean share of US Residents' International Travel 2020
Tourist Arrivals Down 87% in January 2021 As UNWTO Calls for Stronger Coordination to Restart Tourism
31st March 2021
The devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on global tourism has carried on into 2021, with new data showing an 87% fall in international tourist arrivals in January as compared to 2020. The outlook for the rest of the year remain cautious as the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) continues to call for stronger coordination on travel protocols between countries to ensure the safe restart of tourism and avoid another year of massive losses for the sector.
Following a difficult end to 2020, global tourism suffered further setbacks in the beginning of the year as countries tightened travel restrictions in response to new virus outbreaks. According to the latest edition of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, all world regions continued to experience large drops in tourist arrivals in the first month of the year. Mandatory testing, quarantines, and in some cases the complete closure of borders, have all hindered the resumption of international travel. In addition, the speed and distribution of the vaccination roll-out have been slower than expected, further delaying the restart of tourism.
All global regions hit hard
The international community needs to take strong and urgent action to ensure a brighter 2021. Many millions of livelihoods and businesses are depending on it
Asia and the Pacific (-96%), the region which continues to have the highest level of travel restrictions in place, recorded the largest decrease in international arrivals in January. Europe and Africa both saw a decline of 85% in arrivals, while the Middle East recorded a drop of 84%. International arrivals in the Americas decreased by 77% in January, following somewhat better results in the last quarter of the year.
UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “2020 was the worst year on record for tourism. The international community needs to take strong and urgent action to ensure a brighter 2021. Many millions of livelihoods and businesses are depending on it. Improved coordination between countries and harmonized travel and health protocols are essential to restore confidence in tourism and allow international travel to resume safely ahead of the peak summer season in the northern hemisphere.”
Outlook for 2021
With 32% of all global destinations completely closed to international tourists at the beginning of February, UNWTO anticipates a challenging first few months of 2021 for global tourism.
Based on current trends, UNWTO expects international tourist arrivals to be down about 85% in the first quarter of 2021 over the same period of 2019. This would represent a loss of some 260 million international arrivals when compared to pre-pandemic levels. Looking ahead, UNWTO has outlined two scenarios for 2021, which consider a possible rebound in international travel in the second half of the year. These are based on a number of factors, most notably a major lifting of travel restrictions, the success of vaccination programmes or the introduction of harmonized protocols such as the Digital Green Certificate planned by the European Commission.
The first scenario points to a rebound in July, which would result in a 66% increase in international arrivals for the year 2021 compared to the historic lows of 2020. In this case, arrivals would still be 55% below the levels recorded in 2019. The second scenario considers a potential rebound in September, leading to a 22% increase in arrivals compared to last year. Still, this would be 67% below the levels of 2019.
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.”
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.”
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.
Jim Hepple is an Assistant Professor at the University of Aruba and is Managing Director of Tourism Analytics.