Caribbean sets new tourism record

Anthony Julien, of Trinidad and Tobago, an employee on the Explorer of the Seas cruiseship, sells tropical drinks to passengers on the beach in Labadie, Haiti.
Associated Press / Lynne Sladky

For the first time ever since the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) began keeping records, the Caribbean outperformed every major tourism region in the world in setting new arrival and spend records in 2015 while exceeding expectations.

The Barbados-based CTO said on Monday that international tourist trips to the region grew by seven per cent to 28.7 million visits, much higher than the projected four to five per cent growth.

It said visitors spent an estimated US$30 billion, a 4.2 per cent rise over the US$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 CTOs secretary general Hugh Riley in announcing the record performance at a news conference at CTO headquarters, streamed live to a global audience that spanned the Caribbean, the Americas, Europe and as far as Asia.

Riley attributed the growth to improved global economic conditions in the marketplace; a boost in consumer confidence, particularly in the United States; 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,” Riley said.

In 2015, he said traffic from the Caribbean market accounted for six per cent of total arrivals into the region, with 1.7 million visits among the various states, an increase of 11.4 per cent over the previous year.

The CTO chief said the US, which remains the ‘Caribbean’s primary market, accounting for about 50 per cent of arrivals, grew an impressive 6.3 per cent to 14.3 million visits.

The Canadian market grew by 4.5 per cent to 3.4 million; Europe accounted for 5.2 million visits, a 4.2 per cent jump over the previous year; and South America continued its rapid growth, generating 2.1 million visitors, an 18.3 per cent jump over 2014, Riley said.

He said of the 5.2 million European visited, 1.1 million came from the United Kingdom, which recorded a 10.4 per cent rise.

“The European market made significant gains in 2015, with its best performance in seven years,” Riley said.

For the first time since 2008, he said total arrivals from Europe reached the five million mark, a rise of 4.2 per cent compared to 2014.

Riley said the UK was one of the dominant performers, growing by a healthy 10.4 per cent to 1.1 million visitors.

He said arrivals from Germany recorded an even better 11.5 per cent rise, while France was relatively flat, increasing by 0.8 per cent.

“Needless to say, we are very pleased with the Caribbean’s performance of stayover arrivals in 2015,” Riley said. “In each quarter, the region recorded at least six per cent growth over the corresponding quarter for 2014; and each month in 2015 was better than the same month the previous year.

“Still, the Caribbean cannot be complacent,” he warned. “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.

“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,” Riley added.

The CTO secretary general also announced growth in the cruise sector, although at a slower rate of 1.3 per cent, with 24.4 million cruises in Caribbean waters.

He said the outlook for 2016 was positive, with tourist arrivals expected to increase by 4.5 to 5.5 per cent, while cruise is estimated to record one to two per cent growth, as summer redeployment of ships continues.

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