Caribbean registers second highest record for visitor arrivals in 2018

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BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (CMC) – Tourist arrivals to the Caribbean hit a record high last year despite some destinations being severely impacted by hurricanes that swept through the region in 2017, according to figures released here yesterday by the Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO).

“With a strong performance during the last four months of 2018, including a robust showing by countries impacted by the 2017 hurricanes, the evidence suggests that Caribbean tourism is on the upswing,” CTO acting director of Research and Information Technology, Ryan Skeete, told reporters.

Delivering the CTO’s annual Caribbean Tourism Performance Report 2018 & Outlook for 2019, Skeete said the outlook for Caribbean tourism in 2019 is cautiously optimistic.

“Global demand for international travel is expected to remain strong, underpinned by healthy economic activity. Global economic growth is expected to continue, though at a slower rate, and oil prices are expected to remain similar to 2018 prices. Additionally, improved air connectivity should help to boost arrivals.

“Of course, we must recognise that there are significant headwinds to navigate. These include, but are not limited, to the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, the on-going trade war between the US and China and potential extreme weather events in the destinations and marketplaces.

“Consequently, we are projecting that tourist arrivals will increase by between six and seven per cent in 2019, as the damaged infrastructure in the hurricane-impacted destinations returns to capacity. Similarly, cruise arrivals should expand by a further four to five per cent,” Skeete said.

He told reporters that having registered declines during the first eight months of last year, signs of a rebound emerged in September when the region recorded a three per cent increase in visitor arrivals.

He said the numbers in October confirmed the recovery, with a healthy 11.8 per cent growth, and by the end of the year tourist arrivals in the last four months was up 9.8 per cent.

“Even the destinations that were severely impacted by the 2017 hurricanes, despite registering overall double-digit declines last year, experienced a significant turnaround during the last four months, registering triple-digit increases during this period.

“Overall, the Caribbean received 29.9 million tourist visits in 2018, the second highest on record, surpassed only by the 30.6 million who visited in 2017,” he added.

However, last year’s arrival numbers represented a 2.3 per cent fall, a much better performance than the three to four per cent fall-off that tourism officials had anticipated.

“This was the first decline in annual tourist arrivals in nine years, and with global growth in international trips increasing by 5.6 per cent, the Caribbean market share of global visits in 2018 shrank by 0.2 percentage points, to 2.1 per cent of the market.”

Skeete told reporters that total visitor spending also declined slightly by approximately one per cent to US$38.3 billion, although tourists spent slightly more per trip than they did in 2017, with the spending being US$1,177 per trip compared to US$1,171 in 2017.

Among the destinations, tourist arrivals showed uneven growth. Several countries reported double-digit increases in 2018 such as Guyana (15.9 per cent), Belize (14.6 per cent), the Cayman Islands (10.7 per cent), The Bahamas (10.5 per cent) and Grenada (10 per cent), while the hurricane-impacted countries recorded double-digit declines.

He said that the contributing factors to the excellent performances in the countries not impacted by the hurricanes included sustained targeted marketing, upgraded tourism infrastructure, additional rooms and enhanced airlift.

Regarding the major Caribbean sub-regions, the US territories, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), and the Dutch Caribbean reported declines of 29, six and seven per cent respectively.

In contrast, the grouping dubbed “Other Caribbean”, and comprising Cancun, Cozumel, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Suriname, which accounts for almost half of all arrivals to the region, recorded an increase of 1.8 per cent while the Caribbean Community (Caricom) sub-region recorded an increase of 4.5 per cent.

The figures show that while the United States remains the Caribbean’s largest market, it was Canada that outperformed all other markets last year with 5.7 per cent growth or 3.9 million visits.

Skeete said that this was due to its strong economic performance and increased seat capacity to the region.

He said intra-regional travel had its best performance ever, reaching a record two million visits, representing a strong 5.3 per cent rise. It was followed closely by South America, which produced 1.9 million visits, representing a 3.6 per cent increase.

Arrivals from Europe improved modestly by an estimated 1.3 per cent, partially reflecting the fact that more United Kingdom tourists were switching to domestic holidays attributed to the continuing Brexit negotiations, the related uncertainties and a weaker pound. UK arrivals remained flat at an estimated 1.3 million.

On the other hand, the 13.9 million American tourist visits last year represented a 6.3 per cent fall. This was due mainly to steep declines in arrivals to popular destinations impacted by the hurricanes, such as Puerto Rico, which was down by 45.6 per cent, and St Maarten, which fell by 79 per cent.

However, the rebound that we experienced during the September to December period last year was quite evident in the US market, which saw fourth-quarter growth of 28 per cent.

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