Caribbean tourism has ‘best ever’ year in 2014

AA-st-maarten-740BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Thursday February 12, 2015, CMC – The Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) is projecting a five per cent increase in tourist arrivals in 2015 after the region recorded its best year ever in 2014.

“Last year, we received more visitors than ever before – recording our fifth straight year of growth – and visitors spent more money in the Caribbean than they ever did before.

“There was strong demand throughout 2014 and I am particularly pleased with our performance during the summer period when our growth rate was almost twice that of the summer of 2013,” CTO chairman Richard Sealy told a news conference.

Sealy, who is also Barbados’ Tourism Minister, said the improved performance was achieved in a year which recorded moderate growth in the world economy, adding “all of this an indication that Caribbean holidays are still in demand, all of this a sign that, despite the moderate growth, stability is returning to the markets and consumer confidence is growing”.

CTO Secretary General Hugh Riley told reporters a record 26.3 million visitors came to the Caribbean last year, spending a record US$29.2 billion.

“Clearly, last year, the Caribbean’s tourism industry was the strongest on record. There’s no doubt that political and economic conditions, increased airline seat capacity, improved airport facilities, increased room stock – as recognized hotel chains established themselves in our destinations – and new initiatives in the marketplace, all contributed to this success.”

Riley said another reason the CTO was being optimistic in 2015 is due to the fact that “increased economic activity in our region’s major source markets and the fact that several of our member countries have negotiated additional routes with the airlines to increase seat capacity during the year, should lead to higher demand for Caribbean vacations.

“The outlook for Caribbean tourism is positive, and we project a further four to five per cent rise in arrivals in 2015.”

Riley told reporters that last year, 1.3 million more visitors came to the Caribbean than in 2013, which itself was a record year, representing a 5.3 per cent rise, and well above the projected two to three per cent. He said these visitors spent just over a billion dollars more than they did in 2013.

“So strong was the demand for Caribbean vacations that we outperformed the rest of the world, which, according to the UN World Tourism Organization, recorded a growth rate of 4.7 per cent,” he added.

Riley said that the robust showing for the Caribbean was based on the good performance of traditional markets.

He said Canada, which was flat in 2013, rallied strongly, while the US maintained healthy growth and Europe topped five million visitors for the first time since 2008.

But Riley said the CTO remained concerned over intra-regional travel to the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), noting that demand for intra-regional travel to the nine-member sub regional grouping “remained depressed for most of 2014, with preliminary estimates suggesting that this market segment contracted by over three per cent”.

CTO director of Research and Information Technology, Winfield Griffith noted that despite the OECS situation, the drivers of the growth in intra-regional travel continue to be the larger destinations.

“The supply of visitors by Caribbean neighbors increased by 4.8 per cent but this was not to the benefit of those destinations with heaviest reliance on the market. Demand for intra-regional travel to the OECS remained depressed for the most of 2014,” he reiterated.

He said that with more Americans taking outbound trips, the US continued to be the dominant supplier of visitors to the region accounting for just under half of all tourists, while growing at 5.5 per cent.

“Although the bulk of the traffic is concentrated in four destinations, the market supplied increased numbers to half of the member countries reporting data.”

He said Canadians also took more international trips during the year to the benefit of Caribbean destinations, thereby retaining the Canadian market share at 12.3 per cent.

“The increased number of trips was a recovery from the marginal decline which was realized from the market in 2013,” he said, noting however that the popularity of Cuba and the Dominican Republic among Canadian visitors market is undeniable, and together these destinations account for 57.9 per cent of the total.

Griffith said that some semblance of economic growth returned to the Eurozone although it was feeble.

“In the individual countries from which the Caribbean attracts visitors the economic conditions varied. For the first time in almost six years, the arrival level has surpassed the five million mark, but still not quite back to pre-recession level.

“Strong showing in the UK and Germany markets assisted with this level being achieved. Clearly, long haul travel is still favoured,” he told reporters.

The CTO official noted that last year, the estimated total number of cruise passenger arrivals in the region was 23.9 million, an increase of eight per cent compared to 2013.

He said of the 24 destinations reporting data, 21 destinations achieved increases, 14 of them in double digits, topped by St. Vincent & the Grenadines at nearly 92 per cent.

The French island of Martinique (71.3%), Belize (42.9%), Trinidad & Tobago (30.1%) and Turks & Caicos (24.8%) were the other top performing destinations, while by market share standards, the top five performers were The Bahamas, Cozumel, US Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands and St. Maarten.

“With the expansion in cruise business to Belize, Cayman Islands, Cozumel, Jamaica and Turks & Caicos Islands, the Western Caribbean is now the largest sub-region for cruise passenger arrivals having displaced the Eastern Caribbean from this position. The islands of the Southern Caribbean did regain some of the capacity which it had lost during the period of high cost fuel,” Griffith said.

Riley said that an analysis of data provided by Smith Travel Research, a U.S. company which tracks overall performance of the hotel sector, reveals that Caribbean hotels earned more revenue last year than in 2013.

He said room occupancy rates improved slightly; and revenue per available room was up 5.7 per cent.

“2014 was a strong year for air travel, not only regionally, but globally. Airlines doing business in the Caribbean are adding seats to destinations to which they already fly, while some are adding new destinations. As a result, capacity to Latin America and the Caribbean increased six per cent, according to IATA, the International Air Transport Association,” Riley said.

But Sealy told the news conference that continuing to grow the Caribbean’s tourism industry is vital for the creation of opportunities for the region’s socio-economic development.

“Therefore, in order to build on our record performance in 2014, in order to continue to help support economic growth in the Caribbean, in order to bolster the development of our communities and our people, we must invest in a coordinated strategy to promote the Caribbean.”

He said there was also need to make the right investments in infrastructure and “must make travel to and through the Caribbean as hassle-free as possible.”

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