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Record year for Caribbean tourism as hurricane damage recedes

Sparked by robust recovery in the destinations that were affected by hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, Caribbean tourism rebounded soundly to post record stayover and cruise arrivals in 2019.

Stayover arrivals grew by 4.4 per cent to reach 31.5 million, outpacing the international rate of growth of 3.8 per cent reported by the World Tourism Organisation.

At the same time, cruise visits increased by 3.4 per cent to 30.2 million, representing the seventh consecutive year of growth. 

In presenting the Caribbean Tourism Performance Report for 2019 in an online presentation this morning, Neil Walters, the acting secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation said this record performance was triggered by steep rises – as high as 80 per cent in the case of St. Maarten – in the hurricane affected countries.

“Overall, the destinations most impacted by the hurricanes in 2017 saw some of the highest rates of growth,” Walters said.

In addition to St. Maarten, all the worst-affected destinations reported double-digit growth.

Anguilla was up by 74.9 per cent, the British Virgin Islands increased by 57.3 per cent, Dominica rose by 51.7 per cent, the US Virgin Islands saw a 38.1 per cent improvement and Puerto Rico increased by 31.2 per cent.

After two years of decline, the US was the best performing market in 2019, registering an increase of ten per cent to reach a record 15.5 million visitors.

However, Canada, from which there was sustained growth in each of the last three years, was sluggish in 2019 at 0.4 per cent, equivalent to 3.4 million tourist visits, Walters revealed, who added that while arrivals from Europe were down, the intra-regional market was on the up.

“The European market dipped by 1.4 per cent from 5.9 million in 2018 to 5.8 million.

“The UK was down by 5.6 per cent to approximately 1.3 million visitors.

“On the other hand, intra-Caribbean travel increased by 7.4 per cent to reach two million, while the South American market declined by 10.4 per cent to 1.5 million,” the acting secretary general said.

However, Walters warned that while 2019 was a great year overall for Caribbean tourism, there are a few potential hurdles on the horizon – such as environmental, political and social uncertainty and the impact of climate change – that could impact its performance this year.

These concerns notwithstanding, the CTO predicts growth of one to two per cent this year.

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