The Hidden Engine:
The Caribbean tourist industry has been its economic engine. It is the most tourist-dependent in the world according to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), and the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). For some islands experts also noted that tourism accounts for upwards of 40 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Since COVID-19, travel spending has suffered an unprecedented 42% annual decline (roughly $500 billion) from 2019. International travel and business travel had the sharpest declines, and experts have noted spending fell 76% and business travel spending fell about 70 percent.
Several decades ago, manufacturing areas like sugar, banana, coffee, poultry, and bauxite; played a key role in sustaining the economy. These jobs were the balance between the service economy that provided what established the middle class.
Sadly, many were sold to foreign investments; and many jobs moved elsewhere because of globalization and the development of technology. These investments also followed cheap labor and better tax incentives like tax breaks, grants, reduced costs of opening or expanding a business facility, and free job training.
The companies that remained for about a decade were no longer competitively priced or folded due to massive imports, poor management, and reduced production.
These closures affected communities from local stores, restaurants, bars, and street vendors who depended on these operations. It has increased unemployment, widen the gap between the haves vs haves-nots; especially for the dominant Caribbean islands like Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Haiti, Dominica, Jamaica, the Bahamas, and other parts of Latin America who were already looking for an economic booster shot.
It has created an extremely social divide, that made it worse for generation by a generation where poverty and inequality have been on the rise regardless of the political side in power. It seems today, more charity organizations asking for aids rather than a platform to develop innovation for the next generation who will be key to the sustainability of these shores.
Taking from Peter to Pay Paul:
Globally, there is an increase in commodities; prices of home building materials even for preparation for school since the pandemic. Additionally, supply chains contributed to increased volatility in import, export, and producer price many leading economic data have shown.
COVID-19 has caused an economic shock three times worse than the 2008 financial crisis, economists notes. But nations who were unprepared suffered the more. Though many blame their ongoing financial problems on lock-down, it is not the sole issue.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there are reports of enormous fare hikes from taking a local taxi from an airport to a hotel lodging. Sadly, it seems to represent an opportunity for prior lost revenue and will discourage future trips, especially for budget-stricken travelers.
A simple COVID-19 test few argued as required or visiting and departing typically run between 20-35 US dollars. I have spoken to recent travelers who visited Jamaica that it can cost about US$80.00, and that varies depends on the location to get back on a flight.
Another traveler complained that while at airport checkout custom fined her for items because she may have forgotten to take off a sale tag. For several natives going on vacation, it is not unusual to purchase a new set of clothing.
These connected visitors often purchased items also to be given away or returned if not worn. Even a few extra boxes of protected masks to support aunt Jane is being seen as a business trip. In addition, reports items missing after inspection of luggage to clear check out.
Reports have shown excursion trips almost double in cost. Some of these businesses were already struggling financially before the pandemic. It is like you are simply paying for others who are hesitant to travel.
Despite the pandemic risk, some will continue to travel due to heritage, cultural connections, while others just need a mental break.
These deep-roots vacationers’ trips to an authentic small restaurant tucked away on a lovely rural hillside or a small beach shop away from the populated areas with an aunt, grandparents, uncle, or siblings play a pivotal role in the off-the-grid economy disposable income.
Vacation is also beyond the beach and now into urban centers, taking in historic sites and cultural events. Travel reports have shown there was a growing influx of travelers in places like Europe and North America, and part of ASIA before COVID-19.
Visiting and spending out of protected tourist zones is like direct remittance, where countries like Haiti, Dominican Republic, Guyana, and Jamaica alone accounted for almost ($10 Billion USD) annually according to IOM UN Migration.
A delicate balance:
The pandemic has created tension in the local communities where government officials struggle on what businesses should remain open or close temporarily. Health ministers also argued many visitors to the region were not adhering to the safety protocol, and I believe they should.
Managing the number of incoming visitors some of whom may not have been vaccinated and the local economic impact is a delicate topic. This pandemic has put leadership decisions between a rock and a hard place. It is a balancing act closing the local economy because others will die from the lack of an economic vaccine.
Even though many locals have complied from social distancing, wear masks, and are vaccinated, frustration continues. Some argued that locals are being locked down, while visitors are allowed to move freely and party.
The lack of consistency in local guidelines, from what business will be closed, or street will be blocked to enforce curfews to the type of transportation allowed to operate only add to the frustration.
Many argue it seems leaders are utilizing these times of fear, anxiety, and economic uncertainty to gently push in a direction to gain despotic political power through restrictions. Though it may not be a push to reduce democracy; freedom only comes through knowledge, and reasonableness is only possible if talk achieves consensus.
COVID-19 survival is like an underground business operation. It is a balancing act navigating the pandemic risk for their economic viability. So, many people march to their drumbeat.
Those who are well-connected, wealthy, politicians and who can afford to self-quarantine, healthcare access, and more than likely already vaccinated; often seem to be the ones who are jabbing fingers and scorned at those who break curves rules, or demonstrating crying for help.
Some locals are concerned that the healthcare systems had already been struggling in keeping up with critical needs. Additionally, while this surge pushing hospitals to the brink with the worst still likely ahead, the pandemic has exposed its inefficiency, from limited bed space to overcrowding to mitigate this pandemic and other key issues before the outbreak.
Despite the blame game, and people who still traveling, I believe anyone who tested positive for COVID-19 or has other medical issues and is aware of potential medical hurdles would not risk their lives to navigate a few islands’ healthcare systems.
Another shot not in the arm.
Sadly, many politicians in these impoverished and developing counties are like dealers in a casino; they always come out ahead; including other well-connected people. They are salaried employees on the people’s taxes and the impact of this pandemic is less severe.
On top of a fragile economy; local communities coughing up an economic virus that had already been dormant just waiting on a strain to be reactivated. The pandemic has put the region’s governance under the microscope and exposed the fragile labor force and the poor.
For decades, it looks like leaders have been playing poker economics where no one knows the outcome of the hand dealt, expecting and promising a more reliable hand each election cycle since independence from once colonial rule.
Today, many educated students are waiting to join a list of call centers with high student loans and limited job opportunities. The idea of purchasing a small house off the grid from a modest job is becoming more challenging.
Some reports show three out of four youths are unemployed. Many students are not achieving the critical academic requisite from the lack of resources, even heading back to the classrooms that were already overcrowded.
Yes, with high unemployment and undervalued currency, dwindling middle class, and increased poverty is breeding added violence from robberies, murders, and criminal assaults.
Generally, any increase in price on basic goods and services such as; bus fare, taxes, groceries, fuel, or government services, and if wages remain stagnant and have not budged in decades, families must cut back somewhere.
Often especially for basic food supplies, prices can vary from the adjacent store a few steps away, with little enforcement only adds to the economic struggles.
Several reports have shown nearly nine in ten voters say they are concerned about inflation, the rising cost of living, and limited job prospects and financial uncertainties have created more economic fever and financial strokes.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has been meeting to discuss a global coordinated partnership on the impact of the Coronavirus on world travel and tourism, according to reports, but who is at the table for the impoverished nations?
With the cost of living increasing globally, the pandemic remains unpredictable, more young people are becoming infected in the region and dying.
Many communities are not even close to a first dosage, where access to the poor, frequently seen through the eyes of politics can be difficult, while others are on the second, or even getting close to a third.
There are reports of people still refusing to be vaccinated. However, I believe that there are no more valid excuses for not being vaccinated other than health reasons.
Many impoverished people who were already left out of the economy instantly feeling the brunt of an outsider; especially the ones who refuse to be vaccinated. It seems they are the ones should be rounded up like slaves when they voiced their concerns.
Often reaching out with a small support group with a conversation about the vaccine may help some hesitancy due to people’s conflict with religious ideology, distrust of their leaders, or ignorance.
Nurses, doctors, and scientists are key in public health awareness and dispelling myths communicating with and educating patients and caregivers about the benefits of vaccination and vaccine safety.
One hope is that access to this vaccine, does not become for sale or used as a political platform for future election votes across some of these shores, and elsewhere.
The sun will rise again on these shores, and if people follow the science and recommendations, it may lead to less need for targeted price hikes.
There must be a balance where everyone can navigate this recent significant change; support each other regardless of your political views, locals, incoming and departing visitors working collectively where no one felt left out or pressured to have a sense of normalcy.
See you again soon!