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CTO forecasts 20% increase in visitors arrivals and spend for 2021

BARBADOS — This puts 2020 in perspective: While tourist arrivals to the Caribbean were down by 65.5%, that was better than any other region in the world.

The latest stats from the Caribbean Tourism Organization underline the challenges the Caribbean experienced in last year’s almost complete shutdown of international travel.

“Across the Caribbean, the impact of COVID-19 on the travel and tourism industry has been very apparent. The impact was particularly evident during the period of April to about mid -June when there was literally no activity in some of our destinations,” says the CTO in its report.

In the second quarter of 2020, arrivals were down by 97.3%.

Here are some more key points, based on data received from CTO member countries for 2020:

  • While there were some fluctuations in the levels of visitors for the remaining months of 2020, the influx of visitors has not reached levels even closely comparable to those being experienced prior to March 2020. 
  • Some destinations remain closed to visitors, with limited airlift primarily for repatriation of locals and cargo.
  • Cruise lines typically sailing Caribbean routes remain non-operational. 
  • Tourist arrivals to the Caribbean in 2020 fell to just over 11 million, a decline of 65.5%, versus a record 32 million tourist visits in 2019. The world average was a 73.9% decline during the same period. A significant portion of the Caribbean’s winter season (January to mid-March 2020) saw average levels of tourist arrivals when compared to 2019. Plus, summer is typically low season for the Caribbean, which is not the case for other international destinations.



  • Destination initiatives including long-stay work programs and other promotional activities, plus the efforts of regional organizations such as the CTO, the CHTA and the CPHA contributed to the gradual rise in arrivals.
  • Like stayover arrivals, cruise was buoyed by the performance in the first three months of 2020, particularly in February 2020, when there was a 4.2 % rise in visits. However, a 20.1% fall in Q1 was followed by no activity for the remainder of the year as ships remained non-operational. The overall result was a 72% slide to 8.5 million cruise visits, when compared to the 30 million visits in 2019, says the CTO.
  • Visitor expenditure across the region declined by 60 – 80%, in line with the decline in stayover and cruise arrivals, according to CTO estimates.
  • Preliminary data indicates that the average length of stay for 2020 remained at roughly seven nights, the same as in in 2019.



Tourism to the Caribbean in 2021 will depend largely on the success of the authorities in the marketplace and the region in combatting, containing and controlling the virus, notes the CTO, adding that the vaccine roll-out taking place in North America, Europe and the Caribbean is encouraging.

“However, this must be tempered by some other factors such as: lockdowns in our key source markets which are expected to continue into the second quarter, international travel confidence not expected to pick up until the summer 2021, a steep fall in the number of people planning to travel abroad and the possible requirement by the authorities in our key markets for their citizens to vaccinate before travelling abroad,” says the CTO. 

“With these factors taken into consideration, our initial forecast is for a 20% rise in arrivals in 2021, with a similar increase in visitor expenditure, when compared to 2020.”

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