The tourism industry in the Caribbean is showing signs of recovery with the sector recording a 5.4 per cent increase last year as compared to 2011, a senior Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) official has announced.
CTO chairman, Beverly Nicholson-Doty, said the state of the industry gives “reason to be optimistic” and that “all the signs suggest Caribbean tourism is rallying”.
She said visitor arrivals to the Caribbean, especially from the North American market, had increased, along with hotel revenues.
“Of all our major markets, Canadian arrivals showed the greatest buoyancy throughout the challenges of the recessionary period,” said Nicholson-Doty. “In fact, arrivals from Canada have continued to move upward over the past five years. Arrivals went up by 5.9 per cent in this market in 2012. There was also no evidence of falling average visitor spending on the part of the Canadians.”
Tourists were also spending more during their stay in the region. Figures show an estimated US$27.5 billion was spent by visitors to the Caribbean last year, a 3.6 per cent increase over the previous year and the third successive year of increase.
Nicholson-Doty said this marks a return of aggregate spending by visitors to the pre-recession level.
“The region as a whole has regained ground lost in the heat of the global economic depression in 2008/2009,” she said. “Last year, the Caribbean welcomed nearly 25 million tourists – that’s 5.4 per cent more than in 2011 and the largest number of stayover visitors in five years. This rate of growth outpaced the rest of the world which saw arrivals increase by four per cent.”
However, Nicholson-Doty, said amidst these positive signs “is the stark reality that some of our member countries are still hard pressed to recover, particularly those that rely heavily on the British market”.
She blamed the ailing British economy and the “onerous Air Passenger Duty (APD)” that London first instituted in 1994 as an environmental tax aimed at offsetting aviation’s carbon footprint.
Regional governments have been lobbying London to remove the tax, which they said negatively affects the growth of the tourism industry since the Caribbean has been placed in a band that makes travel to the region significantly more expensive than travelling from London to the United States.
Nicholson-Doty said cruise tourism has been “flat region-wide” for each of the last three years and that intra-regional shifting of cruise schedules resulted in fairly significant increases in the northern Caribbean activity offset by reductions in that of the south.
“The region’s performance in 2012 must be seen in context of the wider global situation,” she said. “Debilitating effects of the world economic crisis which led to caution and austerity on the part of governments and consumers alike, still linger. These have manifested themselves in lower personal discretionary income and lower aggregate visitor spending. The global economy is still pressured in the aftermath of the crisis of 2008-2009. However, international tourism proved resilient in 2012. The World Tourism Organization, the UNWTO, reported that over one billion international tourists travelled the world by the end of the year – 36 million more than in 2011.”
Overall, the CARICOM countries recorded a 1.9 per cent increase in tourism for the year, which Nicholson-Doty said was influenced by a 0.4 per cent decline in the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States struggling with falling British and intra-regional travel.
However, the Dutch Caribbean countries recovered moderately well in 2012, performing slightly above the wider Caribbean.
The grouping recorded a 5.6 per cent increase over 2011 due to rising activity in all the reporting countries.
Nicholson-Doty was pleased with the performance of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean.
“This group sustained the positive growth in arrivals experience over the last five years, recording a six per cent increase last year,” she said. “Mexico’s Caribbean region was the chief contributor to this multi-year performance, having climbed by double digits in 2010, thereby regaining much of the ground lost in the wake of swine flu a year earlier.”
Nicholson-Doty said the U.S. and Canadian markets are driving the region’s tourism industry and expected to continue to perform well in terms of arrivals in 2013.
However, she warned that in a bid to stay afloat, hotels and other tourism service providers in the Caribbean will need to maintain the most attractive offers to further boost their rising levels of occupancy and general profitability in light of continued consumer austerity.
“Barring any international or regional unforeseen economic or social trauma in 2013, the indicators of Caribbean tourism performance should continue to move in a positive direction,” said Nicholson-Doty. “Visitor traffic to the region is expected to increase by another four per cent to five per cent in 2013.”