Natural disasters will continue to hit the Caribbean, perhaps on an increasingly frequent basis as a result of climate change, a report from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) estimates.
“As the economies of islands grow ever more reliant on the sector, it is critical that governments and destination management organizations develop strategies to minimise the long-term impact of natural disasters and encourage visitor spending to return to pre-hurricane levels of growth”, the WTTC analysis added.
Scientists claim that climate change affects specially the small islands. They show that the climate of the Caribbean region is already changing in ways that seem to signal the emergence of a new climate regime.
Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 fit this pattern all too well.
At no point in the historical records dating back to the late 1800s have two category five storms made landfall in the small Caribbean island chain of the eastern Antilles in a single year.
The experts said the intensification almost overnight from a tropical storm to a category five hurricane and the devastating intensity that lingered for several days are also unfamiliar, even to a region that is used to seeing hurricanes.
They mention also the prolonged droughts, an increase in the number of very hot days, intense rainfall events causing repeated localized flooding, and rising sea levels that are consuming the beautiful beaches on which tourism in our region depends.
The analysis published by The Guardian, made by Tourism Economics, an Oxford Economics subsidiary, found that Travel & Tourism is one of the most important economic sectors in the Caribbean, contributing 15.2% of the Caribbean’s GDP and 13.8% of employment. However, in around half of the countries analyzed, the sector accounts for over 25% of GDP – more than double the world average of 10.4%.
The 46.7 million international visitors who visited the region in 2016 spent US$31.4 billion, which supported 2.4 million jobs.
The 2017 hurricane season resulted in an estimated loss of of 826,100 visitors to the Caribbean, compared to pre-hurricane forecasts. These visitors would have generated US$741 million and supported 11,005 jobs.
Research suggests that recovery to previous levels could take up to four years, resulting in an approximate loss of US$3 billion.
Gloria Guevara Manzo, President and CEO WTTC, commented: “Crisis preparedness and response is one of WTTC’s strategic priorities. We are delighted to present this research which helps the tourism industry, both public and private sectors, in the Caribbean quantify the potential impact of the devastating hurricanes last year and put in place partnerships and policies to help bring the region, and those islands most negatively affected, back on track.
Timeframes for recovery can be significantly reduced when governments work alongside the private sector to implement policy initiatives that are supportive for Travel & Tourism growth and long-term resilience.