TORONTO — Flying high on more than two million arrivals from the Canadian market in the first six months of this year, Hugh Riley, Secretary General for the Caribbean Tourism Organization, said the CTO is “cautiously optimistic” for continued growth and a 5 – 6% increase in Canadian visitors by the end of 2015.
Lift to the Caribbean is increasing and more than 3.8 million seats (most from Ontario and Quebec gateways) will carry Canadian travellers to the islands in 2016. Meanwhile the cruise market is thriving with 13.7 million cruise passengers worldwide sailing to Caribbean ports, a 2.9% increase. The Caribbean is now close to attracting 40% of all cruise ships in the world, said Riley.
Speaking at the CTO’s annual Canadian press conference, part of Caribbean Week this week, Riley said travel agents are crucial to the Caribbean’s success as a tourism destination. “Travellers to the Caribbean like to talk to an individual, a real person, to guide them through the different Caribbean destinations. They have a zillion questions. And travel agents play a critical role in answering these questions and in driving these travellers to the Caribbean.”
More than 100 agents are expected to attend the CTO’s free workshops taking place this week in Kitchener-Waterloo and Burlington.
Travel agents also play a vital role when it comes to booking not just leisure travel, but corporate travel as well, said Riley. “They’re booking incentives and meetings, too,” he added.
“We must never, ever forget to say thank you to them.”
Riley says a full schedule of carnivals and other events encourages shoulder-season and low-season travel. And while islands like Cuba, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic still dominate, some of the smaller islands are seeing tourism gains too, like Curacao (up 39.7%) and Suriname (up 30.4%). Canadian travel to Barbados was up 28.4%.
Many Caribbean islands have been grappling with an influx of sargassum seaweed this year, with much publicity. “It’s not a new phenomenon but here’s the problem: it’s unpredictable,” said Riley. “No one’s tourism business has been shut down because of it. If you have clients who are concerned about it, point them in the direction of where to get more information, or call the hotel.”
The CTO is also keeping an eye on the Canadian dollar, said Riley. “People may be thinking that the Caribbean still represents good value,” he said. “Despite the weakness of the Canadian dollar, Canadian travel is still up.”