The Caribbean tourism industry is gearing up for an improvement in 2010 despite concerns about over the UK air passenger duty tax and crime against tourists on some islands.
Many of the islands, which depend heavily on tourism for revenue and jobs, reported falls in tourism numbers in 2009 as the global downturn kept many Europeans and North Americans holidaying closer to home.
The tourism minister of St. Lucia, Allan Chastanet, said he is arranging for additional flights to the East Caribbean island which will contribute to a strong rebound in 2010.
St. Lucia received 360,000 stop-over visitors last year - those who spend money on hotel rooms and on restaurants - and also saw a 15 percent increase in cruise arrivals.
While most of the islands are reporting a poor 2009 for tourism, Jamaica saw an increase of 4 percent in arrivals.
“It was a good year for us notwithstanding everything globally,” said Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett.
Jamaica has been running television ads across North America during an unusually cold winter to entice viewers to its warm climate, and hopes for one of its best years.
Jamaica experienced a 3.6 percent increase from January-December 2009 in tourist arrivals, compared to the same period in 2008. A key factor behind the growth was the Jamaica Tourist Board’s work to expand the market through connectivity, especially partnerships with US carriers.
JetBlue Airways has just started a Boston to Montego Bay service and will commence service from Orlando to MBJ next week. This follows airline’s inaugural Jamaica service between New York (JFK) and MBJ in May 2009, the airline’s most successful Caribbean launch to date. JetBlue also began service between JFK and Kingston in October 2009.
AirTran Airways is also set to begin serving Montego Bay with new nonstop services from Atlanta, Baltimore and Orlando gateways to Montego Bay on February 11. US Airways introduced nonstop flights from Phoenix to Montego Bay in December 2009, opening up more western gateways to convenient one-stop connectivity to Jamaica.
“For this winter season now beginning, we have a record 1 million (airline) seats which is the largest number we ever had,” Bartlett told Reuters.
While tourism officials are optimistic about improvement in the industry this year, they are concerned about the impact of the new UK air passenger duty.
When a rate hike takes effect in November, an economy-class ticket from a UK airport to the Caribbean will carry a tax of £75 while the tax on a first class ticket is £150.
Many of the islands face an additional challenge of convincing potential travellers of their safety following several crimes against tourists.
Armed robbers in the Bahamas have targeted cruise ship visitors, while travel warnings have been issued for Trinidad and Tobago because of sexual assaults and murders of tourists and foreign residents.
Though local residents are more often targeted than visitors, the region is struggling with high murder rates.
Bermuda had six murders in 2009 and one already this year, although these targeted locals rather than visitors.
Hotelier Michael Winfield, chairman of the Bermuda Alliance for Tourism, said the killings and the resulting international publicity threatened the island’s image.
“One of Bermuda’s strongest selling points has, traditionally, been its safety and friendliness and for that main plank of our profile to now be threatened is alarming; this at a time when projections are already very poor,” said Winfield.