Caribbean tourism braces for impact of COVID-19
The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has arrived in the Caribbean.
Health officials in the Dominican Republic on Sunday reported the first confirmed case of coronavirus in the region— in a tourist visiting from Italy— and only time will tell how this will affect the region’s tourism, especially after the bumper year that was experienced in 2019.
Given that tourism employs 2.4 million people in the Caribbean region and contributes more than $62 billion (15.5 percent) to GDP (2018) as the most tourism-reliant region in the world, we cannot afford the staggering losses that are being felt across the global tourism industry as a result of the virus.
Speaking to CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” co-founder of Absolute Strategy, Ian Harnett, warned that a prolonging of the crisis could seriously impact the global travel industry.
“If this gets extended, we’re talking about the impact on Easter holidays, potentially summer holidays, (and) whether the ‘staycation’ becomes the default for all of us here — that’s going to be tremendously damaging to these industries,” he said.
One thing is for sure— Europe has been hit hard. Images are surfacing of dead tourist spots throughout the region, amid coronavirus-related travel fears, and according to the EU’s Internal Market Commissioner, Thierry Breton, the tourism sector is losing around €1 billion a month because of the virus.
The cruise industry is also feeling an impact after five cruise ships including Diamond Princess, World Dream, Anthem of Seas, Westerdam, and Costa Smeralda were quarantined after news about possible infections emerged. Many cruise ships have begun to make cancellations and change itineraries.
Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Limited have lost about $31 billion in market value in about six weeks and shares of Carnival, the industry giant, closed at their lowest in more than six years on Thursday.
Other markets have been taking advantage of the change in global travel patterns as a result of the virus.
Alaska, for example, has been lobbying airlines, tour operators and travel agents to increase airline service, reroute cruises and spread the word about Alaska tourism so as to draw visitors who had wanted to go to Asia, and to fill the void created by Chinese tourists that have been cancelling trips to Alaska.
Data from travel analytics firm ForwardKeys reveals that international flights booked from the US and the UK were down almost 20 percent year-on-year for the five-week period ending February 23 and the International Air Transport Association estimates that the crisis will cost the sector more than $29 billion in 2020.