Long-stay tourist arrivals to the Caribbean are expected to decline slightly by year-end before rising next year, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO).
After mixed results for the first half of the year, arrivals were expected to decline by three to four per cent at the end of 2018 but rise by about 4.3 per cent by the end of next year.
The figures were delivered by CTO Secretary General Hugh Riley as he reported on the region’s performance for the first six months of 2018 while giving an outlook for next year at the State of the Industry Conference at the Atlantis resort, Paradise Island, The Bahamas.
But despite wobbling returns in long-stay arrivals, cruise liners continue to bring more visitors to Caribbean shores.
“Cruise on the other hand is projected to grow by five to six per cent this year,” Riley told journalists.
From January to June this year, those Caribbean countries that were spared last year’s hurricanes experienced “robust growth” while those islands struck by hurricanes Irma and Maria saw “dramatic decreases” in arrivals but were “steadily improving”, he said.
Of the 22 reporting CTO member destinations, 13 of them registered increases in tourist arrivals, ranging from 1.7 per cent to 18.3 per cent during the period under review, according to the CTO 0data.
The top-performing destinations were Guyana, followed by Belize (17.1 per cent); Cayman Islands (15.9 per cent); Grenada (10.7 per cent) and the Bahamas (10.2 per cent).
Barbados recorded a 3.1 per cent increase to reach 357,668 stay-over visitors, during the period.
On the downside, seven of the member destinations reported decreases between -0.3 per cent and -71 per cent.
But the overall performance was an indication that the region was “open for business” and that there was confidence in the destinations to deliver good experiences, said Riley.
Pointing to the performance of the key source markets, the CTO secretary general said it varied considerably with some destinations recording strong growth while others registered declines.
“In the United States market for example, while Jamaica reported growth of 8.4 per cent, the Dominican Republic was up 6.3 per cent and 11 other destination achieved growth, six of which were by double digits,” Riley said.
The region received seven million visitors from the US market during the first half of the year – a 15.8 per cent decrease year on year.
Riley said this decline was mainly due to the 54.6 fall-off in visitor arrivals to Puerto Rico and decreases in arrivals to Cuba.
“On the other hand, there was a new record in arrivals from Canada for this time of the year, with 2.4 million overnight international visitors, representing a 4.7 per cent increase,” said Riley, adding that he was confident the region could pass the 3.5 million mark by the end of the year from this source market.
Arrivals from Europe also increased, but marginally at 0.3 per cent, to reach three million visitors during the reporting period.
Riley reported that the southern Caribbean country of Belize led the way with arrivals from this market with a 24.3 per cent growth, followed by Guyana at 9.4 per cent, Curacao at 6.2 per cent and St Lucia at 4.5 per cent.
“However, overall growth was impacted by steep falls in arrivals to Anguilla, Puerto Rico and Bermuda,” he added.
There was a marginal decline of 0.5 per cent in cruise visitor arrivals to the region during the reporting period.
Riley said there were already signs of improvement, adding that 15 of the 23 reporting destinations have already realized increases over their 2017 performances.
“Trinidad and Tobago registered [an] increase of 166 per cent, St Vincent and the Grenadines up by 84 per cent and Martinique at 54.7 per cent, leading the growth rate,” he reported.
Those increases, however, were countered by steep declines in all countries that were severely affected by last year’s hurricanes – ranging from -90 per cent in the British Virgin Islands; -88.4 per cent in Dominica; -27.5 per cent in St Martin to -22.5 per cent in the United States Virgin Islands.
“Puerto Rico, though also impacted by hurricane last year, posted a 1.1 per cent increase during this period in cruise visit,” said Riley.
“The region’s competitive advantages of diverse tourism product and safety and security are still intact. Destinations are rebuilding and new tourism products and services are being restored daily in the destinations impacted by last year’s hurricanes,” he reported.
For 2018, the CTO leader told journalists he was expecting the region to fall below the record 30 million visitor arrivals it witnessed in 2017.
There was no report on visitor spend for the year so far.