BRIDGETOWN — The Caribbean outperformed every major tourism region in the world in setting new arrival and spend records in 2015 while exceeding expectations, according to new statistics from the Caribbean Tourism Organization.
The Canadian market grew by 4.5% to 3.4 million in 2015, says the CTO. International tourist trips to the region grew 7% to 28.7 million visits, much higher than the projected 4 – 5% growth, according to the CTO. Visitors spent an estimated $30 billion, a 4.2% rise over the $28.8 billion spent in 2014.
“So 2015 was the second year in a row that the region has done better than the rest of the world, and the sixth consecutive year of growth for the Caribbean,” said CTO Secretary General Hugh Riley.
Riley attributed the growth to improved global economic conditions in the marketplace; a boost in consumer confidence, particularly in the U.S.; falling oil prices; rising seat capacity and persistent marketing by CTO member countries and their partners.
The CTO reported growth in all the major markets – the United States, Canada, Europe, the Caribbean and South America – with the intra-regional market performing better than it has ever done before.
“Despite concerns about the cost of travel within the region, the intra-Caribbean travel recorded its best performance since we started keeping records. In 2015, traffic from the Caribbean market accounted for 6% of total arrivals into the region, with 1.7 million visits among the various states, an increase of 11.4% over the previous year,” said Riley.
The Canadian market grew by 4.5% to 3.4 million; Europe accounted for 5.2 million visits (up 4.2%) and South America continued its rapid growth, generating 2.1 million visitors (up 18.3%).
Of the 5.2 million European visited, 1.1 million came from the United Kingdom, which recorded a 10.4% rise.
The U.S., which remains the Caribbean’s primary market, accounting for about 50% of arrivals, was up 6.3% to 14.3 million visits.
“Needless to say we are very pleased with the Caribbean’s performance of stayover arrivals in 2015,” added Riley. “In each quarter the region recorded at least 6% growth over the corresponding quarter for 2014, and each month in 2015 was better than the same month the previous year.”
Despite the good news Riley warned against complacency. “We must continue to grow our traditional markets, strengthen emerging ones and penetrate new sources as we target the 30 million arrivals mark we set some years ago,” he said. “Our efforts to improve our product quality, enhance our marketing, grow our rate base, increase our profitability, and constantly offer excellent value for money, must continue.”
The CTO secretary general also announced growth in the cruise sector, although at a slower rate of 1.3%. He said the outlook for 2016 was positive with tourist arrivals expected to increase by 4.5 to 5.5%, while cruise is estimated to record 1 to 2% growth as summer redeployment continues.
The news comes as the Caribbean and Latin America struggle with an increase in Zika cases, with Puerto Rico already reporting several wedding and business conference cancellations. The U.S. territory has more than 30 confirmed Zika cases. The virus has hit Martinique and French Guiana the hardest, with more than 2,500 potential cases and more than 100 confirmed ones.
Frank Comito, CEO of the Florida-based Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association, said there have been some cancellations of trips to the Caribbean but declined to provide a specific number.
But officials said they expect tourist arrivals to increaseroughly 5% this year.