Caribbean arrivals up in 05; moderate growth forecasted this year

Caribbean tourism held its own in 2005, according to Arley Sobers, director of research and information management for the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

An initial forecast for this year, based on arrivals to date, is that arrivals during the current winter season will surpass last winters total, due in part to increased airlift to the region.

The CTO predicted continued moderate growth this year, in the 2.5% to 3.5% range, Sobers said.

Tourist arrivals in 2005 to 31 CTO member countries increased by 3.6% to 22.5 million visitors, down from the 6.9% increase in 2004 and the 7.1% increase in 2003.

However, compared with world tourism figures for the three-year period encompassing 2003, 2004 and 2005, tourist arrivals to the Caribbean grew by 19%, topping a 16% increase worldwide.

The number of U.S. arrivals to the Caribbean grew 2% last year, while the number of Canadian arrivals rose 6% and the number of European visitors increased 7%.

Although final figures from each country are still being tallied, the biggest visitor increases seen to date were in the Dominican Republic (up 7.2%, to 3.7 million tourists) and Cuba (up 13%, to 2.3 million).

On the cruise side, traffic dropped 2% in 2005, compared with a 12.2% increase in 2004 and a 12.7% increase in 2003.

Officials attributed the drop last year to the slow growth of capacity in 2005 (2.2% versus the average of 8.1% over the previous 10 years) and the redeployment of ships to destinations outside the region.

With the post-9/11 tendency to base more capacity in Florida and the growing focus on shorter cruises, the more southerly cruise destinations in the region have reported the sharpest decreases, according to Sobers.

The average hotel occupancy in the Caribbean for 2005 stood at 68.6%, compared with 68.4% for 2004, according to Smith Travel Research, a company that analyzes international hotel performance.

The average revenue per available hotel room in 2005 increased 8%, to $101.99.

Preliminary estimates translate to a gross expenditure by visitors to the Caribbean last year of $23 billion, Sobers said.

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