(Barbados Today) Noting the loss of over US$1 billion in 2021 because of a stagnation in travel between the region’s destinations, the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) recommends a concerted effort by Caribbean government and private sector leaders to boost intra-regional travel, while fostering greater parity, clarity and consistency for travel.
While international travel to the region has rebounded to 75 percent of pre-pandemic levels, intra-regional business and leisure travel has dropped to around 30 percent, with smaller Caribbean economies and small businesses hit particularly hard, according to CHTA President Nicola Madden-Greig.
Stimulating intra-regional travel, asserted Madden-Greig, would dynamize higher local spending, boost trade in local goods and services, increase government revenues and revitalize local economies.
Among the steps proposed for revitalizing sluggish local economies were increasing services to revive regional air travel, reducing COVID-19 testing costs, cutting testing time, and shrinking long isolation periods. CHTA also recommends an air travel tax/fee holiday or reduction, similar to that which was proposed to Caribbean leaders by Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne, who is leading by example with fee reductions for his country.
Additionally, more uniform and consistent regional travel protocols would reduce traveler uncertainty, while health safety diligence and increased vaccinations were key to speeding up the return of local festivals and events, key elements of intra-regional travel.
Regional travelers include Caribbean residents visiting family and friends; attending holiday events, weddings, funerals, reunions and homecomings; conducting business; selling goods and services; participating in training and meetings; and enjoying vacations, festivals, sports and other events.
Reiterating the importance of consistency, CHTA, which speaks for private sector tourism stakeholders, recommended eliminating travel barriers that add significantly to travelers’ cost and uncertainty, and putting into place low-risk protocols to stimulate travel.
Such protocols would include asking all travelers in the region to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 antigen test result 24 hours prior to departure when traveling from one Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country to another.
CHTA also recommended the elimination of on-arrival testing – and pre-departure testing (when returning home) – for fully vaccinated asymptomatic travelers within CARICOM jurisdictions, while non-vaccinated travelers would be required to comply with the standard protocols for international travelers.
Reducing the profusion of taxes and fees leveled on travelers would be a major boost to intra-regional travel, and CHTA repeated its call for a reduction of travel taxes and fees – a move which the association stated was hailed by various organizations, including the Caribbean Development Bank.
CHTA also reported movement by some governments on working with major regional airlines and the accommodations sector to launch travel incentives to promote intra-regional travel.
The measures being proposed by CHTA met with receptivity by regional air carriers, who indicated that the return of intra-regional travelers is critical to their viability.
“Despite the pandemic we have added four new destinations in the Eastern Caribbean, adding even greater connection points and increasing the ability of business and leisure travelers to move seamlessly throughout the region. We welcome efforts by governments and private sector partners to put in place additional measures which will support and stimulate the return of intra-Caribbean travel,” stated Trevor Sadler, CEO of interCaribbean Airways.
CHTA President Madden-Greig also cited the broad impact intra-regional travelers have on local economies, spending at a high level on local goods and services and moving around the community more than travelers from outside the region. “We know that the economic and social linkages are stronger, and the leakages are less as more of the revenue circulates within our countries and territories, benefiting a range of businesses beyond just the accommodations sector,” stated Madden-Greig.
CHTA also called on regional airlines such as Bahamasair, Caribbean Airlines, Cayman Airways, interCaribbean Airways and LIAT to work collectively with both the public and private sectors to seamlessly stimulate intra-regional travel. “It is not beyond us to get this done,” Madden-Greig reiterated.