The year 2015 got off to a flying start for Caribean tourism, with the Chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), Barbados’ Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy reporting that visitors simply “bolted out of the gates” during the first quarter of the year.
This was best reflected in the six per cent increase in long stay tourist arrivals for the period January to March, compared to the same quarter last year.
“The outlook for the remainder of the year is quite positive. Growth is expected to be moderate and uneven among member countries. However, overall tourist arrivals are now anticipated to rise at least six per cent over 2014,” Sealy said.
Cruise arrivals were also up 3.4 per cent. And though the increase was not as significant as the 4.3 per cent growth reported in the previous year, it still amounted to 7.9 million cruise passenger arrivals in total, representing the 17th straight quarter of growth.
“. . . . I think it is fair to say we are well into recovery mode,” said Sealy in reporting on the first quarter performance for the region.
The CTO chairman noted that the region had been faced with numerous tourism challenges since 2008. However, he said arrivals to the Caribbean, which grew by 5.3 per cent to 26.3 million in 2014, had now returned to continuous rapid growth.
Addressing a news conference in New York City as part of the annual Caribbean Week tourism celebrations, Sealy said the improved performance during the first quarter was partly attributable to the United State, which grew by 5.6 per cent, and continued to be the region’s “the most productive” market.
“The Canadian market also grew by an equally impressive 5.4 per cent with Cuba and Dominican Republic recording the highest levels of arrivals,” he said.
While noting that “in the accommodation sector, all leading hotel performance indicators were positive”, Sealy reported a modest increase of 1.3 per cent in the number of rooms available in the first quarter.
“We also saw historically first quarter highs recorded for room occupancy, 77.8 per cent. The average daily rate was US$239.84, and, of course, the revenue per available room was US$188.25. So we are still getting good rates of return and we still have a bit of occupancy there. So there is still some room for growth,” the CTO chairman said.
“I will also mention that the investment levels are actually significant throughout the region. New hotel plant or refurbishment of existing is occurring throughout the region,” he said.
In terms of cruise, the destinations that recorded the highest increases were Martinique with 34.2 per cent; Puerto Rico, 26.2 per cent; Antigua and Barbuda 18.6 per cent; and Jamaica 15.9 per cent.
With Barbados’ reporting a 6.1 per cent decline for same period, Sealy acknowledged that “in the cruise sector, the momentum gained in the first quarter could be reduced”.
“As you know towards the middle of the year vessels tend to reposition to the other side of the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and so on, and we anticipate that, but overall we can see there is no lack of tonnage being committed by the cruise sector to the region. In fact, what we are seeing is that larger vessels, there may be fewer calls but more passengers.”
Based on these projections, he said regional governments, as well as the CTO, were considering “numerous initiatives” to sustain the cruise industry, including “looking for new markets” and tapping into Latin America and China.