Caribbean tourism records 7th consecutive year of record growth with 29.3 million arrivals

CTO logoAnnouncing that 2017 is the Year of Adventure for the CTO, the Caribbean Tourism Organization revealed that Caribbean tourism surpassed 29 million arrivals for the first time, with its record-breaking performance once again growing faster than the global average.

The Caribbean continues to break new ground, said Hugh Riley, CTO Secretary General, during the annual Tourism Industry Performance broadcast live from Barbados this morning.

“Despite political uncertainties, security and economic challenges in our main source markets, tourist arrivals to the Caribbean increased by 4.2% in 2016, better than the 3.9% overall, internationally.”

These numbers translate into more than one million more visitors last year than in 2015, to reach 29.3 million, the region’s seventh straight year of record growth.

Additionally, cruise passenger arrivals grew by an estimated 1.3% reaching approximately 26.3 million.

The United States continued to be the Caribbean’s primary long-stay market. The U.S., which grew by 3.5% in 2016 and accounted for about half of all arrivals, nevertheless turned in the slowest growth rate of all the regions.

Europe was the Caribbean’s star performer in 2016, climbing by more than 11 % to 5.6 million. Arrivals from the UK were up more than 4% and Germany tourism was up more than 8%, reported Riley, “Despite terrorist attacks in some countries, the Brexit referendum in the UK and bumpy economic outcomes across continental Europe…”

Europe turned in “healthy increases” of between 6%-16.8% each month, compared to the corresponding months in 2015.

Intra-regional travel within the Caribbean also increased for the second straight year.

Canada, however, was “uncharacteristically feeble” last year, he said. Traditionally a “strong and reliable market for us during the challenging recession years,” Canadian arrivals to the Caribbean dropped nearly 3.5% compared to 2015.

CTO research notes that Canada’s weak currency and sluggish first half economic output contributed to the decline in Canadian trips to the Caribbean. More than 70% of the reporting CTO destinations reported decreases in arrivals from this market. Consequently, Canadian market share fell to 11.3%.

Growth among the CTO member countries was uneven, ranging from flat, to as high as 19%; one-fifth of the countries reported declines.


CTO’s acting director of research Ryan Skeete (left) and secretary general Hugh Riley at today’s news conference

CTO’s acting director of research Ryan Skeete (left) and secretary general Hugh Riley at today’s news conference

Hotel revenue down

Hotels also had a challenging year. According to Smith Travel Research, all hotel indicators were down, with the exception of the number of available rooms, which grew by just over one per cent.

“These are important metrics which require particular attention. While it is critically important to monitor the numbers of visitors we welcome to our shores, knowing where they stay, how long they stay, what they spend and what contribution they make to the overall economy are all vital data points,” said Riley.

Looking ahead, the CTO predicts that tourist arrivals to the region will grow at a slower rate; between 2.5%-3.5% in 2017, with cruise passenger arrivals up between 1.5%-2.5%.

“So all things being equal we’re expecting growth in 2017, but it will not be robust,” concluded Riley.


Caribbean Cruise Trends

2016 was also a record breaking year for Caribbean cruising, reported Ryan Skeete, Director of Research & IT, during his part of the CTO presentation.

Cruise passenger arrivals to the region grew by about 1.3% to reach 26.3 million, in line with expectations at the beginning of 2016, said Skeete.

He credited larger ships, port enhancements and new destinations on the Caribbean cruise itineraries for helping to increase the attractiveness of Caribbean cruise holidays.

However, only 48% of the reporting destinations registered growth, with the best performances occurring in the Dominican Republic, the British Virgin Islands and Grenada, which all grew by double digits; in addition, Belize became the eighth destination to record over one million cruise passenger visits in 2016.

In total, the Caribbean received 33.7% of all cruise deployments in 2016.


Visitor expenditure

Consistent with increases in stay-over and cruise visits, total visitor expenditure is estimated to have increased by approximately 3.5% to reach US$35.5 billion.


Market highlights

Seven destinations recorded double digit increases: Belize, the Turks & Caicos Islands, Bermuda, Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada and Montserrat. Declines were recorded in six destinations.


72% of the reporting destinations registered increases in arrivals from Europe. The top performing destinations, which registered double-digit increases, were the Turks & Caicos Islands, St. Maarten, Guyana and Anguilla.


The Caribbean received about 11% fewer tourist arrivals from South America in 2016 compared to 2015.