Visitor traffic to the Caribbean region should increase by 4 percent to 5 percent this year, reports the Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization. That follows strong growth in 2012 that saw the islands of the Caribbean welcome 25 million visitors — 5.4 percent more than in 2011 and the largest number of stay-over visitors in five years.
“All the signs suggest Caribbean tourism is rallying,” said CTO President Beverly Nicholson-Doty of the U.S. Virgin Islands. “This optimism is based on the positive signs of growth following earlier down years. We see arrival numbers rising, particularly out of North America. Hotel revenues are moving in the right direction, albeit with moderate acceleration, and we see tourist spend on the increase.”
In 2012, visitors to the Caribbean parted with $27.5 billion, 3.6 percent more than in 2011 and the third consecutive year tourism expenditures went up. The CTO says this marks the return of aggregate spending by tourists to levels seen before the global economic recession of 2008-09.
However, islands that depend heavily on the European — and especially the British — market are struggling in the face of a sick U.K. economy and further applications of the British government’s widely despised air passenger duty. Because of the way the APD is structured, it’s now far more expensive to buy a ticket to Barbados than to Boston. A family of four flying from Britain would now have to pay £400 just in taxes to cross the Atlantic, compared to £80 in 2005.
Partially because of the APD, only one million people from the United Kingdom visited the Caribbean last year, a 10 percent drop from the 1.1 million who visited in 2011. On the other hand, U.S. arrivals to the Caribbean rose by 4.1 percent in 2012 and Canadian arrivals did even better, up by 5.9 percent last year.
The APD is among several issues the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association want heads of government to discuss at a regional summit within the next six months.
“CHTA and the Caribbean hotel industry see an urgent need for a summit meeting on the highest level to deal with a variety of issues adversely impacting tourism to our region,” said Alec Sanguinetti, the organization’s director-general and CEO.
Within the Caribbean, the generally positive outlook varies from one country to the next. The Dutch-speaking Caribbean (led by Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten) recovered moderately well in 2012, said the CTO, with a 5.6 percent increase in arrivals, while the Spanish-speaking Caribbean (Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and the Mexican resorts of Cancún and Cozumel) did even better, with a 6 percent increase last year.
For the second time in four years, reports the CTO, all four key hotel performance indicators in 2012 were positive. Overall occupancy rose by 7.1 percent, average daily rates went up 4.8 percent and total room revenues by 8.9 percent, while RevPAR climbed by 12.4 percent.
On the other hand, cruise tourism has remained flat regionwide for each of the last three years, said Nicholson-Doty, and that “intra-regional shifting of cruise schedules resulted in fairly significant increases in northern Caribbean activity, offset by reductions in that of the south.”