SINT MAARTEN (COMMENTARY – By Roddy Heyliger) - Tourism destinations around the globe are preparing for the new normal. The negative economic impact forced upon nations by the coronavirus disease COVID-19 is forcing countries to find a balance between public health, safety and security, and economic viability and social survival.
Sint Maarten is also in the same boat based on its one-pillar tourism economy. Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world economy in 2020 is projected to shrink by 3.2 per cent, leading to approximately US$8.5 trillion in overall losses, according to the World Economic Situation and Prospect (WESP) reported that was launched on Wednesday.
Various countries have embarked upon the ‘unlocking down’ phase by lifting restrictions that will lead to the jumpstart of economic activity. The post COVID-19 world will be different as countries cautiously prepare for the new normal.
The Cayman Islands Government last week confirmed that their borders (airport & seaport) will remain officially closed until September 1st. Their border closure timeline was set to expire May 31st.
The US Virgin Islands (USVI) Government Administration indicated last week that it will allow reservations for hotels and other lodging services in the territory to reopen on June 1st. The Virgin Islands Port Authority has been notified that air service to the USVI will resume in May. Some of the airlines that are expected to resume service are American Airlines, Cape Air, Delta Airline, JetBlue, LIAT, Spirit, United Airlines, and Silver Airways (Seaborne).
The European Union (EU) Commission also announced on Wednesday its guidance on how to safely resume travel and reboot Europe’s tourism in 2020 and beyond. The package of guidelines and recommendations is to help Member States gradually lift travel restrictions and allow tourism businesses to reopen, after months of lockdown, while respecting necessary health precautions.
The package of guidance measures also aims to help the EU tourism sector recover from the pandemic, by supporting businesses and ensuring that Europe continues to be the number one destination for visitors.
According to the European Commission (EC), Europe is home to a vibrant tourism ecosystem. Travel, transport, accommodation, food, recreation or culture, contribute to almost 10% of EU Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and provide a key source of employment and income in numerous European regions. 267 million Europeans (62% of the population) make at least one private leisure trip per year and 78% of Europeans spend their holidays in their home country or another EU country.
The EC adds that the tourism ecosystem has also been one of the most affected by the heavy restrictions on movement and travel imposed in the wake of Coronavirus outbreak. The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) foresees a 60% to 80% reduction in international arrivals, amounting to losses of between €840 and €1.100 billion in export revenues worldwide. In Europe, the summer is a crucial season for tourism: during an average summer season (June-August) residents of the EU make 385 million tourism trips and spend €190 billion.
The Government of Sint Maarten launched its own Economic Re-Opening Plan earlier this week which comprises of four phases and runs between May 11 to June 15. The key to the reopening is for society and the business community to follow and adhere to proper hygiene and social distancing measures key to suppressing the COVID-19 virus; and maintaining a level of health care that can address cases of COVID-19 that would pop-up.
The Sint Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association (SHTA) announced on Wednesday that it has launched a compact set of guidelines for various industries on how to deal with reopening after COVID-19. According to a statement issued by the SHTA yesterday, “The guideline set includes links to accredited sources for further in-depth design of reopening plans per company.
“The document is a summary of the most important best practices launched by international and regional institutions, with an eye on feasibility for Sint Maarten. “Information from institutes worldwide as well as SHTA’s networks of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), various regional and international standards have been assessed and judged on relevance and applicability for Sint Maarten.”
Various countries have embarked upon a pathway leading to a roadmap of unlocking communities and economies in a gradual approach to phasing-out containment measures due to COVID-19.
The WESP report also points to a modest rebound of around 3.4 per cent in 2021. This is something to look forward too and have confidence for the future as countries including ours are on a path to recovery into a new normal.