The catastrophic hurricanes that devastated some Caribbean destinations last September slowed down tourism’s progress but did not stop it, according to figures released by the Caribbean Tourism Organisation.
Ryan Skeete, the CTO’s acting director of research, announced at a news conference streamed to a global audience that the Caribbean reached the 30 million mark in stay-over arrivals for the first time ever last year.
The region achieved the milestone even as it battled the effects of hurricanes Irma and Maria, as well as Hurricane Harvey, which lashed parts of the United States.
In addition there was record spend by visitors, who contributed US$37 billion to Caribbean economies during the 12-month period, up 2.6 per cent over 2016, Skeete reported.
The tourism researcher explained that stay-over arrivals were on track for a strong performance during the first-half of 2017, growing by an estimated 4.8 per cent, but growth was curtailed in the second half of the year by the storms, which resulted in 1 1.7 per cent drop between July and December.
“These outcomes resulted in an overall increase of 1.7 per cent in 2017, marking it the eighth consecutive year of growth, albeit slower than the average global growth rate of 6.7 per cent,” Skeete explained.
The CTO official explained that strong economic performance in the main markets helped spur the region’s performance, with some destinations recording strong double-digit growth, although the hurricane affected countries recorded decreases ranging from 18 per cent to seven per cent.
The United States continued to be the primary market, growing by about 0.5 per cent to reach an estimated 14.9 million visits to the region due mainly to solid economic growth, low unemployment and high consumer confidence; while the Canadian market rebounded strongly, recording a 4.3 per cent increase in arrivals, compared to a decline of 3.1 per cent in 2016.
However, it was the European market that recorded the strongest growth rate, increasing by 6.2 per cent to 5.8 million visitors.
The cruise sector also set a new high of 27 million passengers, 2.4 per cent higher than 2016, despite the hurricanes.
The CTO said the economic conditions are expected to be favourable for further growth in 2018, therefore it predicts growth of two to three per cent in both stay-over and cruise arrivals.