Gay Nagle Myers
Gay Nagle Myers

How's the Caribbean performing so far this year in terms of arrivals?

It's a mixed bag, according to data provided to the Caribbean Tourism Organization from various member countries. Statistics always lag a month or two behind, and not all countries report to the CTO, but of the seven destinations that provided stayover arrival data for the January-May period, four reported growth, ranging from 6.3% in Anguilla to 14.3% in Dominica.

In terms of visitor numbers, the Dominican Republic, as usual, topped the charts with 2.7 million visitors, a 6.7% jump over the same period in 2016. The US market accounted for the bulk of visitors, followed by Europe and Canada.

As for cruise traffic, seven out out of nine destinations saw increases, led by 35.9% in the D.R. (584,347 passengers), followed by Barbados (up 24.5%) and Curacao (up 14%).

Summer figures haven't been tallied, but some milestones have been reached in a couple of the islands.

Jamaica welcomed its one millionth stopover visitor on June 15, well ahead of other years. Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett took special note of the date, because it marked the earliest that the destination has ever recorded that many arrivals. An earlier projection had put the millionth visitor at the end of June.

"This is significant not only for jobs and earnings but helps to quantify the actual revenue flow in foreign exchange," Bartlett said.

Helping fuel Jamaica's increase are Southwest's new flights out of Fort Lauderdale as well as more airlift from Germany this year. It's helped Jamaica's tourism sector earned in excess of $1.2 billion through mid-June, a 6.5% increase over the same period last year. The island's eventual goal is to reach five million visitors in a single year, Bartlett said: Jamaica welcomed 2.18 million stayover visitors in 2016.

Although Barbados reported only January and February arrivals to the CTO, which indicated  a modest increase of 1.6% to 125,303 visitors, a later report which covered the period through June showed a 17% jump in visitors from the U.S., according to Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy.

The minister attributed much of that to JetBlue, which has three daily flights out of New York.

"Our tourism is in a good place. The investment in the sector is strong  and that has a lot to do with our airlift situation," Sealy said at a recent media briefing in Barbados.

Barbados welcomed 631,513 visitors in 2016, with the U.S. market its second strongest, accounting for 168,945 arrivals.

And then there's Cuba (CTO data did not include Cuba), whose foreign visitor count totaled 2.66 million for the first half of the year, according to Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero.

That's up 23% compared to the same period in 2016.

Cuba is aiming for 4.7 million visitors in 2017 (and five million by 2018), which would mean a growth this year of 16.5% over the record four million last year. Canada remains the leading source market, followed by European countries. Rules recently tightened for U.S. individual travelers to Cuba, but U.S. numbers for the first half of the year increased by 150% over the first six months of 2016. U.S. visitors last year totaled close to 285,000. (The Trump administration ended individual people-to-people travel to Cuba, reversing one of the hallmarks of President Obama's relaxed Cuba policy.)

Earlier this year, the CTO forecast continued growth this year to surpass the 29 million arrivals recorded in the Caribbean in 2016. Hugh Riley, secretary general, said at the time that "uncertainty over the new government in the U.S. could dampen the expansion rate."

Perhaps that helps account for the uneven visitor numbers to date, along with high air fares to the region from a number of gateways.

There's still five months to go, time enough for the region to top the 30 million visitor high-water mark.


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