The Caribbean has turned in record-breaking tourism and spend numbers for 2015, although island retailers tell TMI that they are not seeing the increased spend in their stores. In addition, they worry that the spread of the mosquito-borne Zika virus could cut in to this year’s arrivals.
The Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) announced this week that international tourist trips to the region grew by 7% to 28.7 million visits, much higher than the 4-5 % growth that was projected. Arrivals were significantly above the global rate of growth, which the UN World Tourism Organization quotes at 4.4 %.
For the first time since the CTO began keeping records, the Caribbean outperformed every major tourism region in the world, said CTO Secretary General Hugh Riley during the annual State of the Industry news conference streamed live to a global audience on Feb. 16.
The CTO reports that visitors to the Caribbean spent an estimated $30 billion, over a billion dollars more than they did in 2014. This is up 4.2% over the $28.8 billion spent during the previous year.
“So 2015 was the second year in a row that the region has done better than the rest of the world, and the sixth consecutive year of growth for the Caribbean,” said Riley.
The CTO attributes the growth to improved global economic conditions; a boost in consumer confidence, particularly in the United States; falling oil prices; rising seat capacity and persistent marketing by CTO member countries and their partners.
All the major markets – the United States, Canada, Europe, the Caribbean and South America – reported growth, with the intra-regional market performing better than it has ever done before.
The US, which remains the Caribbean’s primary market, accounting for about 50% of arrivals, grew 6.3% to 14.3 million visits.
The Canadian market grew by 4.5% to 3.4 million; Europe grew by 4.2% to 5.2 million – the first time total arrivals from Europe reached the five million mark — and South America continued its rapid growth, generating 2.1 million visitors, up 18.3% over 2014, says the CTO.
Of the 5.2 million visitors from Europe, 1.1 million came from the United Kingdom, which recorded a 10.4% rise.
Arrivals from Germany were even better, up by 11.5%; France was relatively flat, however, increasing by 0.8%.
This was the European market’s best performance in seven years, said Riley.
“In each quarter the region recorded at least 6% growth in stayover arrivals over the corresponding quarter for 2014; and each month in 2015 was better than the same month the previous year,” said Riley.
Market trends – Target islands
Ryan Skeete, CTO Director of Research & IT, followed Riley’s presentation with a detailed breakdown of the arriving tourists and where they were visiting.
The majority of Americans to the region visited the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and The Bahamas. The highest growth rates in arrivals from the US market were recorded in Barbados (27.6%), Curaçao (15.3%) and Trinidad & Tobago (14.9%).
The Canadian market continued to perform well, up 4.5% in 2015, although the CTO says it is concerned that 13 destinations recorded decreases, compared with increases in 11 markets. The top performing destinations were Curaçao (45.5%), Suriname (58.0%) and Barbados (17.8%).
The top performing islands for European visitors were Turks & Caicos Islands (34.7%), Cuba (23.1%) and Montserrat (12.1%).
The 1.1 million arrivals from the U.K. preferred to visit Cuba (up by 25.2%), Barbados (14.3%) and Jamaica (12.3%).
South America was a surprisingly buoyant source of tourism, says Skeete:
“Despite the political and economic challenges faced by many South American countries, the South American source market provided the highest rate of growth of Caribbean trips, registering 18.3%,” said Skeete.
“Indeed, this has been consistently the case since 2010, which resulted in South American arrivals displacing Caribbean arrivals as the 4th largest source market in 2014. The destinations receiving the highest increases in South American tourists were Dominican Republic (25.1%) and Aruba (28.8%). The main markets within South America are Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina, in that order.”
Caribbean intra-regional travel was another strong source market, peaking in 2015 with arrivals up by 11.4% to 1.7 million trips. All sub-regional groupings experienced solid growth, with Other Caribbean (Cancun, Cozumel, Cuba, Dom Republic, Haiti, Suriname) registering the highest rate of increase of 13.7%.
Riley notes that the outlook for 2016 is positive with tourist arrivals expected to increase by 4.5 – 5.5%, while cruise arrivals are estimated to grow by 1-2%, as the summer redeployment of ships continues.
Cruise arrivals to the Caribbean grew by about 1.3% to reach 24.4 million, in line with expectations at the beginning of 2014, reports the CTO. Demand for Caribbean cruises was relatively high in the winter months of 2015, averaging a 4.8% rise in the period. However, cruise passenger visits contracted by 2.0% in the summer period, as cruise lines repositioned their ships to other destinations, says the CTO.
Trinidad & Tobago (104.0%), Bonaire (74.2%) and British Virgin Islands (43.1%) recorded the highest percentage increases during 2015. The Eastern Caribbean, the largest sub region for cruise passenger arrivals, hosted 32.2% of all arrivals to the region and recorded the highest rate of growth of 3.3%.
The main Caribbean cruise markets (those with one million or more cruise passenger arrivals per year) performed as follows:
The Bahamas cruise arrivals fell 6.2% to 3.628 million (please note these numbers only cover the January-October period).
Cayman cruise passenger arrivals were up 6.7% to 1.717 million (full year figures).
Cozumel cruise passenger arrivals were basically flat, down .3% to 3.396 million (full year figures).
Jamaica cruise passenger arrivals rose 10.2% to 1.569 million (full year).
Puerto Rico cruise arrivals rose 7.4% to 1.457 million (full year).
St. Maarten cruise arrivals fell 5% to 1.902 million (full year).
US Virgin Islands cruise arrivals fell 9.8% to 1.879 million (full year).
For a breakdown of all the Caribbean cruise ports – as of Feb. 16, please click here.