The Americans are back and the Caribbean is breathing a sigh of relief.
2010 numbers to date show that visitors to the Caribbean are up by 4.5%, largely due to a 6.5% rebound in American visitors.
On the other hand, after Canadians kept coming in large numbers during the recession, visitor growth has slowed in recent months, up just 1% year-to-date. Europe is where the real bad news for the region lies – arrivals have dropped 4.3% and the Caribbean Tourism Organization doesn’t see a quick recovery from that important market where unemployment remains high and consumer confidence low.
In a report titled ‘The State of Caribbean Tourism,’ the CTO says improving arrivals “reveal a scenario of hope. “Many Caribbean countries experienced double digit declines in the worst of the global economic crisis. With 23 of 33 countries in the wider Caribbean seeing positive growth so far this year, things are definitely looking better, though the CTO warns that nations heavily dependent on the European market are still in for a bumpy ride.
The sub-region of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) was hardest hit by a drop in arrivals in 2009, showing an overall 12.3% decline. Strong growth in St. Lucia has led the way to a 3.3% visitor increase in this region so far this year.
Barbados and the larger countries from the 15 country Caribbean Community
(CARICOM) have generally fared relatively better than smaller ones. As a group these countries recorded an increase in traffic of over 5% for the first four months with Jamaica leading the way with nearly 10% growth. Most CARICOM countries have moved in a positive direction in the first quarter.
Cuba was flat during the first four months (0%) due mainly to the slowdown in Canadian and European travel. Dominican Republic showed a slight rise (2.0%), while Puerto Rico (8.8%) and USVI (11.5%) enjoyed better results.
Dutch Caribbean Territories show a marginal rise in arrivals driven mostly by St. Maarten and Aruba.
Cruise visitor arrivals to the region as a whole increased 4.5% after languishing the previous year. The CTO says it expects further increases as capacity has increased and cruise lines report improved advance bookings.
Caribbean hotel occupancy dropped by 4.1% in 2009, ending the year at 61.6%. The good news is that both occupancy and average daily rate rose by over 7% in Q1 2010.
Caribbean nations are disproportionately dependent on the whims of airlines, as attracting airlift is critically important to the success of specific islands. It’s no coincidence that the countries showing the largest visitor increases have also enjoyed enhanced lift this past winter. With major Caribbean airlines like Air Jamaica struggling, lift is an even greater concern.
The report states: “Major airlines have experienced considerable challenges sustaining an acceptable level of profitability. Airlift has continued to be juggled and adjusted in an effort to balance supply and demand.”