The Caribbean is predicting that the tourism sector will grow by an anaemic one to two per cent, and is projecting the downswing will be sustained in 2018, due to the effects of the two hurricanes that battered the region, according to Dionisio D’Aguilar, chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO).
The prediction for this year is a downward revision from the 3.5 per cent growth initially projected.
Several Caribbean countries, including Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, the British Virgin Islands, Turks & Caicos Islands, and Anguilla, suffered the effects of hurricanes Irma and Maria in September, resulting in several deaths and billions of dollars in damage.
CHANGE IN TRAJECTORY
They also changed the trajectory of regional tourism markets as a whole.
“We began the year growing at a healthy pace of 5.2 per cent between January and June, when compared to the same period last year,” said D’Aguilar at a news conference at the World Travel Market conference in London.
At that point, the region was tracking ahead of growth projections, due to economic stability in the market, expansion and inauguration of flights by major carriers, and new marketing and product development initiatives, the CTO chairman said.
At midyear, the Caribbean recorded 16.6 million international tourist arrivals, which was 800,000 more than projected. Growth was recorded in all major source markets except South America, which contracted by 14.3 per cent.
The European market was up 7.9 per cent, Canada by 6.4 per cent, and despite the weak pound sterling, the United Kingdom grew by 4.8 per cent, the CTO chairman said.
Concurrently, hotels recorded better earnings, as reported by STR Global, which estimated average occupancy increased marginally by 0.2 percentage points to 70.8 per cent, while the average daily room rate rose from US$220.84 to US$221.38 year on year, a marginal increase of 0.2 per cent.
Growth in the cruise sector also remained positive and stronger than the expected performance in the first half of the year. Cruise visitors increased 4 per cent to 15.3 million.
“This performance represented the largest number of cruise passengers in the region at this time of year then came the hurricanes,” D’Aguilar commented. “That inflicted such damage on some of our member countries, causing such despair!”
The most serious damage was in Anguilla, Barbuda, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Puerto Rico, both Dutch and French St Martin and the US Virgin Islands, he said.
“Understandably, this triggered a slowdown, with travel to many of these destinations having been severely impacted.”
Citing analysis by the Caribbean Development Bank on the potential economic impact, the CTO chairman noted that every one per cent reduction in tourist arrivals could cost US$137 million in lost revenue.
D’Anguilla said overall air capacity in the region grew by five per cent for the first nine months of 2017 when compared to the same period last year.
“As for post-hurricane tourist arrivals, it is still too early to tell, since the October numbers are not yet in. However, with several of the key cruise destinations, including Puerto Rico, St Maarten and the US Virgin Islands recovering from the impact of the hurricanes, cruise lines made changes to their itineraries to include alternative regional ports which remained open,” he said.
“These redeployments have benefited countries such as Curacao, which registered a 138.3 per cent rise in cruise passenger arrivals in September, Jamaica 54.1 per cent, the Cayman Islands and Grenada,” the CTO chairman said.