Bartlett gloomy on pre-COVID era return for Caribbean tourism

Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism, Edmund Bartlett

Jamaica’s Tourism Minister, Edmund Bartlett says for the first quarter of this year, international tourism has recorded 67 million fewer arrivals and a loss of US$80 billion in exports when compared to the same period last year.

Bartlett, who was chairing a virtual meeting of the 65th meeting of the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) Commission for the Americas (CAM), said the Americas, including the Caribbean, is the third hardest-hit region, with international arrivals down by 15.2 per cent compared to the same period in 2019.

The virtual meeting was held on Thursday, June 18.

Jamaica is one of the four English-speaking Caribbean Member States of the UNWTO and currently chairs the CAM for the biennium 2019-2021.

Bartlett said the region has also registered the slowest recovery of lost arrivals post-crisis, using the September 2011 terrorist attacks in the United States as a case study where it took 42 months to return to previous figures.

Bartlett blamed the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic for the situation facing the tourism sector, noting that the virus plunged the world economy into uncertainty, with travel and tourism highlighted as one of the most affected sectors.

“This represents the worst showing for international tourism since 1950 and puts an abrupt end to a 10-year period of sustained growth since the 2009 financial crisis,” he said, noting that governments stand at this most critical juncture to “stop, look, listen and pivot”.

Bartlett said that the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), has indicated that the region is facing the pandemic from a weaker position than the rest of the world.

He contended that before the pandemic, ECLAC had projected that the region would grow by a maximum of 1.3 per cent in 2020.

“However, this forecast has been revised in light of the effects of the crisis, with GDP (gross domestic product) now predicted to fall by at least 1.8 per cent. Nevertheless, as the pandemic evolves, forecasts of economic contractions of between three and four per cent or even more, cannot be ruled out,” the Jamaican minister argued.

He said that small island developing states (SIDS), “like some of us in this region, face particular challenges to our sustainable development, including small populations, limited resources, vulnerability to natural disasters and external shocks, and strong dependence on international trade.

“A heavy and deepening reliance on tourism as a priority contributor to the gross domestic product of our countries, accounting for over 50 per cent of GDP in some cases, could further exacerbate the region’s vulnerability in this present crisis. This is even as we recognize the immense potential of travel and tourism to right our economies on the road to recovery and development,” Bartlett warned.

He said in the case of Jamaica, external debt is 94 per cent of GDP as at March 2019 and for March 2020, it is estimated to be slightly lower at 91 per cent.

“The estimated contraction in GDP from COVID-19 for the Fiscal Year 2020/2021 is 5.1 per cent. Our projections have estimated an annual loss of J$108 billion to the tourism sector for the fiscal year April 2020-March 2021 and a fallout of $J38.4 billion to the government from direct revenue from the sector,” Bartlett explained.