The Caribbean region welcomed 23.8 million visitors in 2011, a 3.3% jump over 2010, with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba and the U.S. Virgin Islands leading the pack.

Canada spearheaded Caribbean growth last year, far outpacing the U.S. market in visitor arrivals with a 6.8% jump over 2010, according to figures from the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO).

Arrivals from the U.S. were up 1.7% last year. Anguilla, Barbados, Belize and Curacao registered the highest increases from U.S. travelers.

Visitor numbers from Europe remained flat, especially from the U.K., which showed a decline for the third straight year.

The CTO attributed the drop to a weak economy and increases in the U.K.'s Air Passenger Duty (APD) departure tax.

The APD is slated to increase another 8% in April, which will result in a tax of approximately $127 on an economy ticket and $255 in business class on flights to the Caribbean.

"We will continue our lobbying campaign, the most high-profile and extensive in the history of Caribbean tourism," said Richard Sealy, Barbados minister of tourism.

"We have not failed, but it is a failure of the U.K. government that it has ignored the Caribbean's case," Sealy said.

Arrivals to the Caribbean are not expected to increase more than 3% in 2012, according to Sean Smith, CTO statistical specialist.

He cited high unemployment in source markets, an election year in the U.S. that could keep travelers at home and the Summer Olympics in London, "all of which could be a significant distraction from north-south travel this year."

Hotel occupancy rose slightly last year, as did the average room rate, but average spend per visitor declined, Smith said.

Cruise passenger arrivals increased marginally by 0.3%, to 20.6 million passengers, compared with a worldwide increase of 6.6%.

Redeployment and rescheduling of cruise vessels, particularly during summer months from the southern Caribbean to routes outside the region, "severely affected cruise numbers," Smith said.

Based on preliminary schedules, cruise arrivals to the Caribbean are not expected to rise by more than 2% to 3% in 2012, Smith said.

For Caribbean and Mexico news, follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly.

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