TOURISM arrivals in the Caribbean have set a new benchmark, despite the impact of two major and devastating hurricanes.
While the catastrophic storms devastated some of the region’s destinations, slowing down tourism’s progress, they did not stop it.
This is according to figures released by the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO), the authority on regional tourism statistics, during a news conference streamed to a global audience last week.
The CTO’s acting director of research, Ryan Skeete announced during the press briefing that the Caribbean reached the 30 million mark in stay-over arrivals for the first time ever last year.
This happened even as the region battled the effects of hurricanes Irma and Maria, as well as hurricane Harvey which lashed parts of the United States, the Caribbean’s primary market.
In addition, there was record spending by visitors, who contributed $37 billion to Caribbean economies during the 12-month period, up 2.6 percent 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 percent, but growth was curtailed in the second half of the year by the storms, which were largely responsible for a 1.7 percent drop between July and December.
“These outcomes resulted in an overall increase of 1.7 percent in 2017, making it the eighth consecutive year of growth, albeit slower than the average global growth rate of 6.7 percent.”
The CTO official explained that strong economic performance in the main markets helped spur the region’s performance, with some destinations recording double-digit growth, although the hurricane-affected countries were down between seven percent and 18 percent.
The United States continued to be the primary market, growing by about 0.5 percent to reach an estimated 14.9 million visits to the region due mainly to solid economic growth, low unemployment and high consumer confidence.
The Canadian market rebounded strongly, recording a 4.3 percent increase in arrivals, compared to a decline of 3.1 percent in 2016.
However, it was the European market that recorded the strongest growth rate, increasing by 6.2 percent to 5.8 million visitors, with the United Kingdom up by 2.9 percent to 1.3 million.
The increase in arrivals was not reflected in hotel occupancy, which fell by 1.2 percent, 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 percent higher than 2016, despite the hurricanes.
“The cruise passenger performance mirrors the performance of tourist arrivals, as it grew strongly by 4.6 percent in the first half of 2017, but contracted marginally – by 0.4 percent – in the second half of the year.
“Indeed, cruise passenger arrivals fell dramatically in September by some 20 percent. However, growth resumed in October, which saw a two percent increase,” the CTO official said.
The CTO said the economic conditions are expected to be favourable for further growth in 2018, therefore it predicts growth of two to three percent in both stay-over and cruise arrivals.
Thirty million tourists visited the region in 2017, which were 517,000 more than the 29.6 million in 2016.
Double digit growth in St Lucia 11 percent, Belize 10.8 percent, and Bermuda 10.4 percent.
Major market performance were – United States up by 0.5 percent at 14.9 million; Canada up 4.3 percent at 3.5 million; South America down by 6.5 percent at 1.8 million; Caribbean down by 1.3 percent at 1.8 million; and Europe up by 6.2 percent at 5.7 million.
Room occupancy was at 66.4 percent down by 1.2 percent; average daily roommate was $204.64 up by 1.9 percent; revenue per available room was $137.85 up by 0.7 percent.
In 2017, the Caribbean welcomed 27 million cruise passenger arrivals. Destinations with the most cruise passenger visits were St Vincent and the Grenadines, Martinique, Curacao, Dominican Republic, Antigua and Barbuda and Aruba.
Total visitor expenditure was estimated at $37 billion in 2017, representing a 2.7 percent increase when compared to $36 million in 2016.
For 2018, it is projected that performance of tourist arrivals will vary between two percent and three percent.