Any time a country or region imposes any sort of visa stipulation - even if it’s a waiver - the travel industry sighs a collective groan, knowing the obstacles and headaches to come.
BARBADOS — The U.S. may still be the Caribbean’s largest market but it was Canada that outperformed all other markets in 2018.
Canadian arrivals to the Caribbean were up 5.7% for a total of 3.9 million visits last year.
The strong performance was credited to Canada’s healthy economy and increased lift to the Caribbean.
Overall Caribbean tourism is on the upswing, said the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) in a teleconference this morning, looking back at 2018 and also providing an outlook for 2019.
A strong performance in the final four months of 2018 – including good numbers even from countries impacted by the 2017 hurricanes – provided the boost that the region needed, having registered declines during the first eight months of the year.
Signs of a rebound emerged in September 2018 when the region recorded a 3% rise. The numbers in October confirmed the recovery, with a healthy 11.8% growth, and by the end of the year tourist arrivals in the last four months were up 9.8%.
“Even the destinations that were severely impacted by the 2017 hurricanes, despite registering overall double-digit declines last year, experienced a significant turnaround during the last four months, registering triple-digit increases during this period,” said Ryan Skeete, Director of Research & IT for the CTO.
Overall, the Caribbean received 29.9 million tourist visits in 2018, the second highest on record, surpassed only by the 30.6 million who visited in 2017.
He added that while 2018’s arrivals numbers actually represented a 2.3% decrease, overall it was a much better performance than the anticipated 3% to 4% drop. This was the first decline in annual tourist arrivals in nine years, and with global growth in international trips increasing by 5.6%, the Caribbean market share of global visits in 2018 shrank by 0.2 percentage points, to 2.1% of the market.
Total visitor spending also declined a tiny bit by about 1% to US$38.3 billion, although tourists spent slightly more per trip than they did in 2017, says Skeete: US$1,177 per trip compared to US$1,171 in 2017.
While arrivals from Canada were up, the 13.9 million Americans who travelled to the Caribbean in 2018 represented a 6.3% drop, attributed to steep declines in arrivals to popular destinations impacted by the hurricanes like Puerto Rico (down 45.6%) and St. Maarten (down 79%).
Looking ahead to the rest of 2019, the outlook is “cautiously optimistic”, says Skeete. Global demand for international travel is expected to remain strong, underpinned by healthy economic activity. The CTO is projecting that tourist arrivals will increase by 6 – 7% in 2019, as the damaged infrastructure in the hurricane-impacted destinations returns to capacity. Cruise arrivals are expected to rise by 4% – 5%.