Surging U.S. tourist arrivals pushes Caribbean to new records

Tourist arrivals to the Caribbean increased by a solid 9.7% during the first half of 2019, reaching 17.1 million between January and June. This is 1.5 million more than in the corresponding period in 2018, reported the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) during the World Travel Market last week.

CTO Chairman Dominic Fedee said this performance was more than double the global average of 4.4%.

The strong growth was propelled by a 20.2% increase in tourist arrivals from the United States market, which totaled a first half record of 8.9 million overnight international tourists.

According to National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO), outbound trips by U.S. residents to the Other Countries (excluding Canada and Mexico) increased by 9.9%, with those to the Caribbean growing by 17.5% in the first three months of 2019.

With the exception of June, during which tourist arrivals grew by 5.4%, double-digit increases were recorded in each month so far. These increases occurred at decreasing rates and ranged from a high of 36.2% in January to a low of 16.7% in May. Overall, the rate of growth in the second quarter (13.7%) was slower than the first-quarter rise of 27.2%.

Regionally, 19 out of 21 Caribbean destinations recorded increases during the period. Of this group, St. Maarten (242.1%) and Anguilla (181.9%) turned in triple-digit growth and 12 Caribbean nations — Antigua & Barbuda, Aruba, the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, Cuba, Curacao, Dominica, Guyana, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, St. Kitts & NevisĀ  and St. Vincent & the Grenadines– recorded increases in excess of 10.0%. In contrast, only two destinations registered declines in American visits: Bermuda (-5.6%) and Grenada (-0.5%).

During the same period, 2.1 million Canadian tourists stayed in the region, up by 2.4% compared to the same period last year.

On the downside, tourist arrivals from the European market were flat, registering a marginal 0.4 per cent increase to 2.9 million trips. The UK market was down by 1.7%, mainly due to significant declines in Cuba, which fell by 22%, and the Dominican Republic, down by 15.3%.

The CTO credits the growth in tourism arrivals to increased air capacity between the region and major sources, expansions in accommodations and the positive positioning of the destination brands in the various source markets.

Cruise demand in the Caribbean was also strong, reaching a record 16.7 million cruise visitors in the first six months of 2019, 1.3 million more than in the same period of 2018, reports the CTO. The present rate of growth is estimated to be 8.1%, eclipsing that for similar periods in the last four years.

Based on current trends, and considering the various global issues including Brexit and trade wars, the CTO forecasts an increase of between five and seven per cent in stayover arrivals and four to five per cent rise in cruise passenger visits.