Increases in overall Caribbean visitor arrivals from January through June are on pace with the world average of 4.7%, thanks to strong numbers posted by 17 island countries.

Arrival figures for six other Caribbean countries are stagnant or below those compared with the first six months of 2013.

The Caribbean recorded an overall rise of 4.3% in visitor arrivals during the first half of this year, according to Winfield Griffith, director of research and information technology at the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO).

Close to 14 million stayover tourists visited the Caribbean from January through June, with nearly half (6.9 million) coming from the U.S., compared with 6.6 million during the same period in 2013, a 3.9% jump in arrivals from the U.S. market.

Approximately 25 million travelers in total visited the Caribbean region in 2013.

Griffith also reported an 8% increase in the cruise sector in the first half of 2014, topping 13.1 million passengers.

"There is enough evidence to suggest that there is growing economic confidence in the region's biggest neighbor [the U.S.], and this is releasing much pent-up travel demand caused by a long recessionary period," Griffith said.

The data represented arrival figures for 23 countries out of 33 CTO member countries; analyses indicated that visitors from Europe and Canada are gravitating in strong numbers to the region.

European visitors increased 6% and those from Canada 4.3% in the January-to-June time period.

For the winter period from January through April, four smaller countries reported double-digit growth, including Belize (12.4%), Grenada (13.6%), Haiti (14.9%) and Montserrat (35.4%), but their visitor numbers were relatively small to begin with.

The Dominican Republic led the region in overall visitors, with 2.6 million, up 8.5% year to date. Other countries posting gains of 5% or greater for the six-month time slot included Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, the Cayman Islands, Martinique and St. Lucia.

"These destinations continued to power through the summer season and show signs of doing exceptionally well this year," Griffith said.

Visitor figures declined in the Bahamas, Barbados, Curacao, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to the data submitted to the CTO.

A market that is beginning to show strength and growth is intra-regional tourism: tourists from within the Caribbean traveling to neighboring countries.

Some Caribbean countries have realized the potential and are making inroads into that market, including St. Lucia, which recently launched a "Caribcation" campaign to lure travelers from the neighboring islands of Martinique, Barbados and Trinidad.

Incentives include low hotel rates and attraction discounts.

St. Maarten went after the local market in neighboring Puerto Rico this past winter with special deals and discounts.

The CTO does not break out intraregional travel numbers in its data until the end of the year.

In 2013, intra-Caribbean arrivals totaled 1.6 million, an increase of 2.1% over 2012, according to the CTO.

Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly.

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