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Caribbean celebrates signs of tourism rebound
SAN JUAN—The number of people traveling to the Caribbean is bouncing back to pre-recession levels, with visitors from Canada and the US giving a boost to a region struggling to recover from a global economic crisis, a top tourism official said.
About 25 million tourists visited the Caribbean last year, a more than five per cent increase from 2011. It’s a growth rate that outpaced the rest of the world, which saw arrivals increase by 4 percent, said Beverly Nicholson-Doty, chairwoman of the Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organisation. “All the signs suggest Caribbean tourism is rallying,” said Nicholson-Doty. “The region as a whole has regained ground lost in the heat of the global economic depression.”
The Caribbean also saw its largest number of stayover visitors in five years, with the region’s overall hotel occupancy increasing by more than seven per cent and total room revenues up by nearly nine per cent. And tourists spent big while visiting the Caribbean last year, dropping more than $27 billion, a more than three per cent increase from 2011. The numbers mark a return to pre-recession levels, Nicholson-Doty said.
The US territories of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands fared the best, reporting a nearly seven per cent jump in tourists. From January to August last year alone, more than 1.1 million people visited Puerto Rico, mostly from the US mainland. Recent visitors include James Trucksess, a 46-year-old extermination business owner from North Brunswick, New Jersey. He flew again to Puerto Rico this week to escape the crippling snowstorm that recently hit the northeast US coast.
“It’s nice, it’s warm and there’s a lot of history,” he said as he strolled near a historic fort with a cigar in one hand and a cup of coffee in another. “I come here pretty much for the history and the food as well.” Coming in second for visitor arrivals was the Dutch Caribbean, reporting a 5.6 per cent increase from 2011 thanks to a surge in business from South America. The most popular islands were Curacao and Aruba, just north of Venezuela.
The bulk of tourists visiting the Caribbean come from the US, a number that increased by more than four per cent last year, on par with pre-recession levels five years ago. Canada also remained one of the Caribbean’s largest markets, with tourists from that country increasing by nearly 6 per cent in 2012. Meanwhile, the number of visitors from the United Kingdom dropped by 10 per cent to 1 million last year, with tourism officials blaming weak European economies and high airfares coupled with a controversial air passenger duty.
Cruise ship tourism was flat across the Caribbean for the last three years. Some islands suffered more than others, with Barbados, Grenada, St Vincent, Dominica and the British Virgin Islands seeing a double-digit percentage drop in cruise ship passenger arrivals last year. A slight increase is cruise ship tourism is expected next year after Disney Cruise Lines begins departing from the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan, generating an estimated $5 million in revenue from the four departures scheduled in 2014. Those cruise ships will stop for the first time at the eastern Caribbean island of Grenada, which saw a nearly 22 per cent drop in cruise ship passengers in 2012.
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