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Positive outlook for Caribbean tourism

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Despite slower arrival growth in the Caribbean tourism sector last year, visitors to the region spent an estimated US$28.1 billion, a 2.3 per cent increase over the 2012 figures. Beverly Nicholson-Doty, chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), said it was the first time in three years that expenditure had outpaced visitor arrivals in the Caribbean, which she described as a positive sign that the tourism sector was in recovery. The Caribbean welcomed more than 25 million stay-over visitors in 2013, a 1.8 per cent increase in tourist arrivals, compared to a robust 4.9 per cent increase experienced in 2012 when 24.6 million tourists travelled to the 30 CTO member countries. Forecasting a rise of between two to three per cent in 2014, Nicholson-Doty said the “atmosphere of despair has lifted” and that the Caribbean expects improved performance despite the many challenges it continues to face. “We have to fight to boost arrivals, both from the traditional markets and new and emerging markets. The figures suggest that South America has immense potential,” she said at a CTO State of the Industry Report in St Thomas, USVI, on Monday.


Nicholson-Doty said global economies are expected to perform better in 2014, with the IMF predicting a one per cent growth across Europe and 2.8 per cent in the US and that demand for travel should remain buoyant. The CTO predicts that cruise passenger arrivals to the Caribbean will increase by about three per cent in 2014. Cruise passenger visits in 2013 were up 2.7 per cent to 21.8 million. The hotel sector in 2013 also performed well, recording a rise of over 7.5 per cent in room revenues. During this period all the performance indicators remained positive. According to Smith Travel Research, average room rates were up nearly $10 to US$186, the average revenue per available room also grew by about $10 to US$125 and occupancy levels were at 67 per cent, directly in line with pre-crisis levels. “In fact, there wasn’t a single month during 2013 that any of these indicators fell below 2012 levels,” added Nicholson-Doty. Statistics also indicated a rise in Caribbean intra-travel and visitors from South America. 


An estimated 1.5 million tourists from South America visited the Caribbean last year, up 13 per cent over 2012 and 70 per cent higher than the 859,000 who visited in 2009. Travel among Caribbean destinations grew by 2.1 per cent in 2013, with estimated 1.6 million Caribbean people travelling for tourism purposes. The US market continued its recovery, with arrivals up nearly three per cent, but Canada was flat with a marginal rise of 0.7 per cent, the lowest year-over-year growth in this market since 1997. The UK and Europe were sluggish, with arrivals from the UK down to under a million visitors—a 1.4 per cent drop—and Europe overall down 3.75 per cent. Looking at new and emerging source markets, Winfield Griffith, CTO’s director of Research and IT, said the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) hold potential for the region. An estimated 97 million Chinese travelled internationally last year, around 17 per cent more when compared with 2012 according to UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) statistics. “They had spent an estimated US$102 billion by September, 12 per cent more than the year before. Asia and the Pacific region benefitted largely from this source,” he said at the press conference.


Russians were also very active in 2013 with outbound travelers climbing by 14 per cent with increased spending of nearly 26 per cent by September. “Other European countries were the main beneficiaries of this increased traffic and buoyant spending although some Caribbean states are seeing Russian arrivals in increasing numbers. “These arrivals are notably concentrated among Cuba, Dominican Republic and recently Jamaica which actually had its first direct flight from Moscow last week by Transaero airline,” he added. Noting that one feature of all the new markets is the strong propensity to boost business in regions in close proximity to each other, Griffith said it’s only natural to foster the Brazilian/Caribbean link in the same manner. “Indeed, now seems to be the right time to pursue the South American market with full vigour,” he said, adding that there is a pressing need to investigate all the new markets and emerging markets in a detailed and serious way that provides all the data necessary to inform a successful launch into these markets. Griffith said there is good reason for heightened optimism of the tourism sector this year although major challenges still exist making it harder for tourism growth to regain the momentum of the years prior to 2009 when the global meltdown started.  


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