Travel to the Caribbean is expected to slow somewhat this year, following a mixed 2016 in which hotel performance was generally down but arrivals from most key markets were up.
Overall, the region welcomed a record 29.3 million long-stay visitors, which represents a 4.2 per cent increase over the previous year. Cruise arrivals were also up 1.3 per cent to 26.3 million, accounting for 33.7 per cent of all cruise deployments in 2016.
And consistent with those improvements, total visitor spend increased by about 3.5 per cent last year, reaching US$35.5 billion.
However, Secretary General of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) Hugh Riley told reporters Thursday that while those were “considerable reasons to celebrate”, there were also several concerns, with the rate of tourism growth expected to slow to between 2.5 per cent and 3.5 per cent in 2017.
The CTO expects modest growth in the order of 1.5 to 2.5 per cent in the area of cruise, which is not exactly the news that regional hoteliers were hoping for on the heels of last year’s “negative results” for the sector.
“All hotel indicators were down, with the exception of the number of available rooms, which grew by just over one per cent,” said Riley, based on the findings of the accommodation data collection agency Smith Travel Research.
The average hotel room rate fell by less than a dollar to US$201.50, as revenue per available room fell by 2.6 per cent to US$134.48. Occupancy also fell by 1.6 percentage points to 66.7 per cent.
“This outcome reflects the rise of the sharing economy and additional hotel room stock. However, it is important to note that the hotel revenue indicators are still above the performances recorded between 2012 and 2014,” added Ryan Skeete, the acting CTO director of research.
Last year, the Canadian market also turned in a feeble performance, with arrivals dropping 3.4 per cent below 2015.
Riley did not go into specifics on the 28 reporting destinations but said the majority –– or 70 per cent of them –– registered declines last year as a weak currency and sluggish economic first half seemingly deterred Canadians from making the trip.
However, the uncertainty which followed last November’s election in the United States of president Donald Trump did not seem to negatively affect travel from the region’s number one source market last year, as the US accounted for just about half of all Caribbean arrivals –– 14.6 million visitors –– in 2016. Barbados was among seven destinations to record double-digit growth as the number of American visitors soared 3.5 per cent as confidence was quite high in the US economy itself.
The Caribbean’s worst fears about Brexit also did not materialize. Despite the June decision by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, which came amid terrorist attacks and a generally bumpy year for continental Europe, arrivals to the region soared 11.4 per cent to reach 5.6 million, with the UK accounting for over four per cent and Germany more than eight per cent of the total growth.
“The strong European performance was evident in the healthy increases of between six per cent and 16.8 per cent in each month, compared to the corresponding months in 2015,” said Riley.
He also reported a 3.6 per cent increase in arrivals from within the Caribbean for the second straight year, saying the 1.7 million trips made by regional travellers last year was “a clear sign of the interest by Caribbean people in taking vacation to their neighbouring countries”.
A further break down of intra-regional travel shows that the Turks & Caicos Island benefited from the highest increase of 17.5 per cent, with Belize, Cuba, Guyana and Bermuda all reporting double digit increases for the period under review.
However, there were fewer tourists –– 11 per cent less –– from South America last year, compared to 2015.