Record-breaking tourist arrivals

The Caribbean is attracting tourists in numbers not seen since the start of the global economic crisis, with several islands boasting new records, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO).

More than 23 million tourists visited the region in 2010, a nearly five percent increase from the 22.1 million that visited the previous year, the CTO said.

The tiny eastern Caribbean islands of Anguilla and St. Lucia attracted hordes of tourists from Canada and the U.S. and posted double-digit increases.

St Eustatius, a speck of an island that was previously part of the Netherlands Antilles, got a big boost from European visitors.

The Dominican Republic for the first time surpassed four million visitors, according to the Ministry of Tourism, while St Lucia also reported a record 330,000 visitors.

The Bahamas and Jamaica, meanwhile, were among the top eight most requested countries last year, according to a recent quarterly review by an online travel referral service that caters mostly to U.S. travelers.

The Caribbean also was the second most requested destination last year following the U.S., according to the Web site, which arranges travel requested destinations.

While the Bahamas reported a number of visitors – more than five million – the amount they spent is nowhere what tourists spent in 2008 prior to the economic crisis, said Tourism Minister Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace.

The jump in tourists came mostly from cruise ship passengers who spend very little compared to those who stay in the Bahamas.

Cruise ship arrivals also increased elsewhere, with a 50 percent jump for the French Caribbean island of Martinique, 20 percent for Bermuda and nearly l8 percent for the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Jamaica hopes to capture even more of that market with this month’s opening of a two-berth cruise port in the north coast town of Falmouth.

It also plans to target the South American and Eastern European markets this year, especially Brazil and Russia, Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett said.

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