Festive outlook: Caribbean looks toward future tourism growth

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Caribbean travel groups are looking forward to 2023 after a strong showing at the end of the year -- many resorts are sold out through Jan. 3.
Caribbean travel groups are looking forward to 2023 after a strong showing at the end of the year -- many resorts are sold out through Jan. 3. Photo Credit: Travnikov Studio/Shutterstock.com

As the Festive Season continues in full gear throughout the Caribbean, hopes are high that the recovery from two years of Covid will continue with robust growth into 2023 and beyond.

Most Caribbean countries continue to show a strong recovery in visitor arrivals when compared with other regions of the world, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization's latest data. Visitor arrivals in the Caribbean though July 2022 reached 81.9% of the same time period in 2019, while global arrivals stood at 57.1% in the same timeframe.

Indicators are that Caribbean tourism is in growth mode. Nicola Madden-Greig, president of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, recapped a portion of a forecast from the World Travel and Tourism Council that predicted 5.5% annual growth for Caribbean tourism over the next 10 years.

"The Caribbean travel and tourism sector is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 5.5%, to reach $85.1 billion by 2032, from $50 billion in 2022," Madden-Greig wrote in the association's year-end newsletter. "Caribbean travel and tourism jobs are forecast to grow by an average rate of 3.3% annually, creating more than 916,000 new jobs by 2032."

However, significant headwinds still loom due to lack of air connectivity, labor shortage issues, supply chain disruptions and the potential for other external shocks, Madden-Grieg said.

Caribbean islands break 2019 records

Some arrival records have been shattered.

The  Dominican Republic, for example, topped the charts at 7.4 million air and cruise visitors through November, according to David Collado, its minister of tourism. Its last record year, in 2019, was 6.4 million visitors.

Other island destinations are on pace to match or exceed their visitor counts from 2019, including the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Curacao, Turks & Caicos, Aruba and Antigua and Barbuda, according to Tourism Analytics.

Jamaica's tourism numbers are estimated to reach  3.2 million by year's end, with cruise accounting for 1.1 million and stopover arrivals at 2.1 million, according to minister of tourism Edmund Bartlett.

"Jamaica is well on its way to recovery," Bartlett said during a speech to government leaders. "Year-to-date, we have recouped nearly half of  2019's stopover business."

Frank Comito, the former CEO and director general of the CHTA, who now serves as a consultant, said he is not surprised "that tourism's recovery has been robust and is expected to continue along this trajectory, notwithstanding some bumps in the road."

On a micro level, many resorts are reporting sold-out scenarios for much of the winter season. Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort in Aruba; Beaches Turks and Caicos and Como Parrot Cay; the Caribe Hilton in San Juan; and Secrets Cap Cana Resort and Spa and Live Aqua Beach Resort in the Dominican Republic are examples of properties that are sold out through Jan. 3. 

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