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Caribbean comeback: The region's post-pandemic tourism rebound leads the world

A beach in the Caribbean island nation of Barbados
Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association
A beach in the Caribbean island nation of Barbados

Few regions saw their tourism industries suffer more during the COVID-19 pandemic than the Caribbean did. But the region is now rebounding more strongly than any other — and for some surprising reasons.

The Caribbean lost a full tenth of its collective GDP in 2020 — the worst year of the pandemic — and the big reason was that tourism, which accounts for a full 14 percent of that GDP, dropped by two-thirds.

But travel data firms like ForwardKeys now show Caribbean tourism enjoying the world’s best post-pandemic recovery. In the first two months of this year, the Caribbean’s international arrivals numbers were down only 1% compared to the same period in 2019.

By contrast, Europe’s numbers were still 25% behind — and Asia’s were 54% short.

Leading the way was the U.S. Virgin Islands, which saw a 22% arrivals increase, although the U.S. territory's pandemic recovery benefitted from U.S.-supplied vaccines and economic relief.

“These are impressive results for our region,” said Nicola Madden-Greig, president of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association.

One key reason appears to be a jump in post-pandemic travel to the Caribbean from South America — a region that usually sends its tourists to Miami. That shift is due largely to the fact that Panama is now a more active airport connection hub for South Americans to Caribbean destinations.

“ForwardKeys has uncovered the growth of Panama City as a gateway to the Caribbean for trips from South America. Miami is, on the contrary, losing its market share” for connections to the region from South America, said ForwardKeys vice president Olivier Ponti.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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