Dr. Suzette Haughton is a Senior Lecturer and Head of the Department of Government at the University of the West Indies.
The highly tourism reliant and citizenship-by-investment (CBI) dependent Caribbean nations need to continue to find ways to boost travel mobility in the region or suffer the deleterious economic effects of shutting their borders.
In 2019, tourism in the region grew by 4.4%. In 2020, however, international tourist arrivals fell by 67% compared to 2019 levels. In previous years, tourism and CBI programs have been a source of significant foreign exchange for countries in the region. For instance, in 2019 Jamaica welcomed 4.3 million tourists and earned USD 3.6 billion from the sector, while the Antigua and Barbuda Citizenship-by-Investment Program generated USD 98.9 million — a 66% increase on the 2018 revenues.
During February to March 2021, Caribbean countries have seen a spike in positive Covid-19 cases. Many of the island nations have imposed night-time curfews and insisted on a mandatory negative Covid-19 test result as an entry requirement. There has also been a ban on flights to and from the UK. All of these measures intended to lessen the virus’s transmission rate are impacting negatively on national, regional, and international mobility.
Caribbean countries have strengthened their health sectors with the assistance of World Bank loans. For instance, in January, St. Lucia secured a loan of USD 30 million for this purpose. St. Vincent and the Grenadines received USD 4.5 million, and Grenada secured a total of USD 5 million.
Covid-19 vaccination remains at the center of discussions on how to fully reopen the Caribbean economies. As in other parts of the world, it is believed that they will be a game-changer for the travel and tourism sector and CBI programs as they will foster cross-border movement without the need to quarantine.
India has donated 500,000 AstraZeneca vaccines and the Pan American Health Organization says the region will receive 28.7 million doses of vaccines by May 2021. Caribbean countries commenced their Covid-19 vaccination programs in February. Dominica has administered 3,580 vaccination doses to its citizens, and Grenada and Barbados have vaccinated essential workers, the elderly, and residents with pre-existing conditions. Antigua and Barbuda, Guyana, Jamaica, and St. Kitts and Nevis are also set to benefit from India’s donation.
Caribbean governments are meanwhile looking at ways to revive tourism while containing the spread of Covid-19. In addition to the negative test requirement for inter-regional and international travel, there are discussions around health passports as a requirement for travel. For instance, Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism, Edmund Bartlett, announced on 3 March that the island nation will be considering bar-coded immunity passports as a means of boosting mobility confidence and encouraging more visitors. Citizens who receive two doses of the vaccine will be granted a ‘green booklet’ — a document which will facilitate cross-border travel.
One trend to watch for in the upcoming quarter is the number of countries and businesses in the region that will mandate the use of immunity passports and e-vaccine certificates to boost tourism, travel mobility, and CBI programs in the region.
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