Barbados recorded the highest increase in visitor arrivals from the United States market last year, when compared to 2014.
This, as the Caribbean came in as the top choice for travellers in 2015, with the region posting record growth and tourist spend for the year when compared to the previous year.
Caribbean tourism grew last year by an estimated seven per cent to 28.7 million visitors, higher than the projected four to five per cent, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO).
Secretary General Hugh Riley said the region surpassed the global rate of growth, which was said to be at 4.4 per cent.
During the period under review, visitors spent approximately US$30 billion in the region, US$1.2 billion or 4.2 per cent more than they did in 2014.
In sharing the results at a media conference this morning at the CTO’s office in Warrens, St Michael, Riley said the record growth last year was due to several factors, including consumer confidence in the US, lower oil prices, a strong US currency and increased marketing by individual destinations.
“Other factors include increased air capacity and persistent marketing by many Caribbean destinations and resorts plying for business in the United States,” the top regional tourism official announced.
“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,” he said.
The US grew by 6.3 per cent to reach 14.3 million visitors in 2015. This accounted for about 50 per cent of all arrivals to the region, with most of them going to the Dominica Republic, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas.
However, the highest growth rates in arrivals from that market were recorded by Barbados (27.6 per cent), Curacao (15.3 per cent) and Trinidad & Tobago (14.9 per cent).
The Canadian market, said Riley, continued to be resilient with a 4.5 per cent increase last year, although its share of total arrivals declined nominally from 12.1 per cent to 11.8 per cent with 3.4 million Canadians coming to the Caribbean.
Barbados was also in the top three for growth from Canada, posting a 17.8 per cent increase, behind Curacao (45.5 per cent) and Suriname (58 per cent).
The European market also made significant gains in 2015, recording its best performance in seven years, the CTO boss said.
“For the first time since 2008 total arrivals from Europe reached the five million mark, a rise of 4.2 per cent [to reach 5.2 million], compared to 2014,” said Riley.
From that grouping, the visitors from the UK to the Caribbean grew by 10.4 per cent to reach 1.1 million; arrivals from Germany were up 11.5 per cent; while arrivals from France to the Caribbean were relatively flat only increasing by 0.8 per cent.
The top performers for visitors out of the UK were Cuba, which posted a 25.2 per cent increase, Barbados (14.3 per cent) and Jamaica (12.3 per cent).
Riley revealed that despite ongoing concerns about the high cost of travel within the region, intra-Caribbean travel also recorded its best performance since the CTO started keeping records. In 2015, traffic from the Caribbean market accounted for six per cent of total arrivals with 1.7 million visits among the various states, he said, an increase of 11.4 per cent over the previous year.
He added that despite political and economic challenges faced by many South American countries, that source market continued its rapid growth last year, generating 2.1 million visitors to the Caribbean. This translated into an 18.3 per cent increase over 2014 and 7.2 per cent of overall regional traffic for last year.
The tourism executive also revealed that travel to countries of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States was up 2.1 per cent, with every other sub-grouping recording growth of at least three per cent.
At the same time, Riley said data revealed that Caribbean hotels performed better last year than in 2014, with the number of available rooms rising 1.6 per cent, while hotel occupancy increased by one per cent.
Average daily rates rose 4.6 per cent to an estimated US$229. In addition the revenue per available room rose by six per cent to
US$158 and total room revenue jumped by 7.7 per cent.
However, he said cruise arrivals in the region were not as robust as stay-over visitor arrivals, although there was an increase last year over 2014.
“Demand for Caribbean cruises was relatively high in the first four months of the year, averaging a 4.8 per cent rise. There were strong gains also of 3.5 per cent in June and 3.8 per cent in November.
“However, this stout performance was undermined by declines in the summer months associated with the traditional redeployment of vessels away from the region. Consequently, there were an estimated 24.4 million cruise visitors in 2015, an increase of 1.3 per cent over 2014,” Riley reported.
Despite these improvements, the CTO Secretary General warned that the Caribbean should not be complacent and he urged regional tourism officials to continue to grow traditional markets, strengthen emerging ones and penetrate new sources in order to reach the 30 million arrivals target.
He said the outlook for 2016 was positive, but that the regional tourism body would continue to monitor “some possible hurdles”, including volatility of some economies; China’s economic slowdown; continued recession in some markets; as well as other issues, including the Zika outbreak.
The CTO is predicting between 4.5 and 5.5 per cent growth of stay over visitors to the region for this year, and a growth of between one and two per cent in cruise visitors.