Caribbean tourism sees modest visitor gains in 2013

By Gay Nagle Myers
carib-beach-chairs410x232The number of Caribbean visitors increased 1.8% in 2013, a growth rate that lagged well behind most other world regions.

In comparison, 2013 tourist arrivals grew 3.6% in all of the Americas, 5.4% in Europe, 5.6% in Africa and 6% in Asia and the Pacific, according to United Nations World Tourism Organization statistics.

The Caribbean’s 1.8% increase in visitors also was down from the region’s 4.9% increase in 2012, according to figures released by the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) on Monday.

The Caribbean welcomed slightly more than 25 million visitors in 2013, up from 24.6 million a year earlier.

The region’s largest source market performed relatively well. The U.S., from where the Caribbean drew almost half its visitors, sent 12.3 million travelers to the Caribbean, a 2.9% increase.

However, the number of visitors from Europe fell 3.7%, to 4.7 million. The CTO blamed low economic growth in Europe and the U.K.’s high departure tax for the decrease in visitors.

The U.K.’s departure tax on economy-class travelers flying to the Caribbean is 83 British pounds (about $136).

The number of Canadian visitors increased 0.7%, to 3.1 million. The CTO said it was it the lowest year-over-year growth from the Canadian market since 1997.

“This performance reflected the fact that there was marginal growth in the number of Canadians (0.1%) undertaking international trips excluding those visiting the neighboring USA,” the CTO said.

Among individual destinations, the Bahamas, Barbados and the U.S. Virgin Islands each had visitors decreases exceeding 5%.

Visitors were up 0.7% in Jamaica and 1.5% in Puerto Rico. Cuba visitation was down 0.5%.

Visitor numbers increased 2.8% in the Dominican Republic, the Caribbean island that attracted the most visitors at 4.7 million.

Strong growth in visitors to Aruba (7%) and Curacao (4.9%) dovetails with a 13% increase in South America visitors for all the Caribbean. The CTO said the Dutch Caribbean islands are the most popular destinations for South American visitors.

CTO Chairwoman Beverly Nicholson-Doty attributed the big increase in South America visitors to “strong economies, particularly in Brazil and Venezuela.”

Caribbean cruise visitors increased 2.7%, to 21.9 million, for 2013. Curacao (41.4%) and Aruba (25.4%) had big gains. Barbados was up 11%. The Bahamas, the Caribbean’s most popular cruise destination, reported a 6.1% increase in cruise visitors.

Destinations reporting decreases in cruise visitors included Jamaica (-5.9%), the Cayman Islands (-8.7%) and Bermuda (-15.4%).

The CTO estimated that visitor expenditures totaled $28.1 million, a 2.3% increase from the prior year.

Nicholson-Doty said the Caribbean “anticipates an improved performance overall in 2014.” The CTO forecasts a visitor increase of 2% to 3%.

“We continue to face challenges and we have to fight to boost arrivals both from the traditional markets and new and emerging markets. The figures suggest that South America has immense potential,” she said.
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