Caribbean Region Hits 30-Million Mark

It seems all is well in the Caribbean.

The catastrophic hurricanes that devastated some Caribbean destinations last September slowed down tourism’s progress, but did not stop it, according to figures released by the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), the authority on regional tourism statistics.

Ryan Skeete, the CTO’s acting director of research, reports that the Caribbean reached the 30-million mark in stay-over arrivals for the first time ever last year, even as the region battled the effects of hurricanes Irma and Maria, as well as Hurricane Harvey, which lashed parts of the United States.

In addition, there was record spend by visitors, who contributed US$37 billion to Caribbean economies during the 12-month period, up 2.6% over 2016, Skeete reported.

The tourism researcher explained that stay-over arrivals were on track for a strong performance during the first-half of 2017, growing by an estimated 4.8%, but growth was curtailed in the second half of the year by the storms, which resulted in a 1.7% drop between July and December.

“These outcomes resulted in an overall increase of 1.7% in 2017, marking it the eighth consecutive year of growth, albeit slower than the average global growth rate of 6.7%.”

The CTO official explained that strong economic performances in the main markets helped spur the region’s performance, with some destinations recording strong double-digit growth, although the hurricane affected countries recorded 7% to 18% decreases.

The United States continued to be the primary market, growing by about 0.5% to reach an estimated 14.9 million visits to the region due mainly to solid economic growth, low unemployment and high consumer confidence; while the Canadian market rebounded strongly, recording a 4.3% increase in arrivals, compared to a decline of 3.1% in 2016.

It was the European market, however, that recorded the strongest growth rate, increasing by 6.2% to 5.8 million visitors.

The increase in arrivals was not reflected in hotel occupancy, which fell by 1.2%, according to STR (formerly Smith Travel Research), a US company that tracks supply and demand data for the hotel industry.

However, both average daily rate and revenue per available room recorded increases, though slightly.

“Notably, the hotel performance indicators excluded most of the hurricane-impacted destinations at this time, due to the disruption in operations caused by the hurricanes,” Skeete said.

The cruise sector also set a new high of 27 million passengers, 2.4% higher than 2016, despite the hurricanes.

The CTO said the economic conditions are expected to be favourable for further growth in 2018, therefore it predicts growth of 2% to 3% in both stay-over and cruise arrivals.