Tourism to the Caribbean grew by 4.4% in 2019, in step with tourism growth worldwide, reports travel tracking agency Forward Keys.
The increase in visitors was driven by North America. Travel from the U.S., which accounts for 53% of visitors, was up 6.5%, and travel from Canada was up 12.2%, says ForwardKeys, citing data released at the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association’s Caribbean Pulse session, held at the Baha Mar in Nassau Bahamas.
The top Caribbean destination is still the Dominican Republic, with a 29% share of visitors, followed by Jamaica, with 12%, Cuba with 11% and the Bahamas with 7%.
The DR is still #1, despite a series of deaths of American tourists last year that were initially feared to be suspicious, and led to a temporary setback in bookings from the U.S. Americans traveled instead to Jamaica and the Bahamas.
Puerto Rico also reports strong growth, up 26.4%, but this is more seen as a recovery after hurricane Maria hit the island in September 2017, says ForwardKeys.
Even though travel to the Dominican Republic from the U.S. fell by 21%, visitor numbers from Continental Europe and elsewhere, swelled to take up some of the vacant accommodation.
Visitors from Italy were up 30.3%, France was up 20.9% and Spain was up 9.5%.
Hurricane Dorian directly damaged the Bahama’s tourism industry, as bookings from four of its top seven markets fell significantly during August and continued to be down in October and November. December saw a substantial recovery, however.
Looking ahead to the first quarter of 2020, the outlook is challenging, as bookings for the period are currently 3.6% behind where they were at the equivalent moment last year.
Of the five most important source markets, the dominant U.S. is 7.2% behind. But bookings from France and Canada are currently 1.9% and 8.9% ahead respectively. Bookings from the UK and Argentina are behind 10.9% and 5.8% respectively, however.
Olivier Ponti, VP Insights, ForwardKeys, notes: “Whilst the current forward booking situation is currently not where one would want it to be, there are plenty of opportunities for the destination to grow. Most significantly, an analysis of flight searches shows that there is strong interest in the Caribbean from source markets which have very limited direct connectivity. For example, large numbers of people look for flights to Nassau from (in order of interest) Paris, Milan, Warsaw, Rome and Zurich. This suggests that if new direct flights were established, many more visitors would come…”
According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), travel & tourism in the Caribbean is responsible for over 20% of its exports and 13.5% of employment.