By Shermain Bique-Charles
Tourism officials here are busy trying to formulate a master plan for the struggling sector that could propel more buoyancy in 2021.
The COVID-19 pandemic has crippled economies worldwide, and Antigua and Barbuda’s tourism sector is no exception.
Tourism Minister Charles “Max” Fernandez confirmed that meetings have been underway to decide how the sector can bounce back from the COVID-19 shock.
“We have to shift our focus and come up with a whole new product and a whole new way of defining our product,” he confirmed.
According to Fernandez, the focus will be on air, cruise and yachting. “Air is still in a situation where things change weekly, daily, hourly sometimes, so we have to be proactive and responsive and plan ahead,” he said.
Fernandez confirmed, however, that this plan will need all hands on deck and collaboration from all sectors.
Where the cruise sector is concerned, the tourism minister said proposed protocols have already been sent out to that sector. These protocols, he said, were formulated by the Ministry of Health.
“We have to look at what we put in place to protect ourselves and our visitors. We are working with the cruise liners, so when the sail order is given, we will be in a position to handle it,” he explained.
And yachting, he said is no different, where protocols have also been issued in that regard.
“I think we can make this work in 2021. We just had a meeting to discuss plans going forward, present COVID, post-COVID. The plan is to get everyone to talk about their plans going forward, “he added.
All this comes as the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) forecasts that while Latin America and the Caribbean will experience positive growth in 2021, it will still not be enough to recover from the pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels of economic activity.
In a new report unveiled last Wednesday, ECLAC said the region will experience a contraction of -7.7 percent in 2020 but will have a positive growth rate of 3.7 percent in 2021 “due mainly to a statistical rebound that will, nonetheless, be insufficient for recovering the economic activity levels seen prior to the coronavirus pandemic (in 2019)”.
ECLAC’s “Preliminary Overview of the Economies of Latin America and the Caribbean 2020” – one of the United Nations organization’s flagship annual reports – was released during a virtual press conference by ECLAC Executive Secretary Alicia Bárcena.
According to the document, in a context of global contraction, “Latin America and the Caribbean is the region in the developing world that has been hardest hit by the crisis stemming from COVID-19.”
In the decade prior to the pandemic, the report says the region was on a low-growth trajectory, and that, in 2020, “it faces an unprecedented combination of negative supply and demand shocks, which is translating into the worst economic crisis in the last 120 years.
“Although the significant fiscal and monetary efforts made by countries have served to mitigate the effects of the crisis, the pandemic’s economic and social consequences have been exacerbated by the structural problems that the region has suffered historically,” the report stated.
In 2021, the report foresees a positive gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate that will “fundamentally reflect a statistical rebound, but the process of recovering pre-crisis levels of GDP will be slow and will not conclude until 2024.”
The report emphasises that, in order to keep the region from perpetuating its low-growth dynamic, “expansionary fiscal and monetary policies are needed along with environmental and industrial policies, all of which would enable the structural transformations that the region requires and would promote sustainable development”.
It also urges the need to prioritise spending on the economic and social reactivation and transformation by “fostering employment-intensive and environmentally-sustainable investment in strategic sectors”; extend the basic income to people living in situations of poverty; provide financing to Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs); offer incentives for productive development, the digital revolution for sustainability and clean technologies; and universalize social protection systems.
The report contends that, beyond national efforts, the region’s economic reactivation and transformation will require financing and international cooperation.