Gay Nagle Myers
Gay Nagle Myers

Best line at the Caribbean Tourism Organization's press conference at Caribbean Week in New York: "If you have seen one island, you have seen one island."

The quip was made by Dionisio D'Aguilar, new chairman of the CTO and the Bahama's minister of tourism, aviation and Bahamasair, who was reinforcing the unique nature of each Caribbean island.

It's a point that both the CTO, along with the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association (CHTA), have long emphasized, even as they acknowledge shared interests among the islands.

In fact, at a meeting during Caribbean Week, the CTO and CHTA endorsed a plan to consider a framework for the development of an inter-Caribbean public-private sector tourism marketing initiative. (This has been talked about before, so it's a wait-and-see on if and when anything concrete materializes.)

Arrival figures and hotel occupancies in the region painted a mixed picture on the health of the Caribbean tourism industry during the first quarter.

D'Aguilar reported that arrival numbers are trending upward, such as a 1.8% increase in international arrivals in the first quarter that brought the Q1 total to 8.7 million visitors. Visitors from Europe were up by 2.9%, and the U.S. was up 1.3%, but Canada surged ahead with a growth rate of 4.8% after a weak performance last year.

There was good news from the cruise sector, according to the chairman. The region's ports welcomed 10 million cruise passengers in Q1, up 4.5% over the same period last year.

But data compiled by STR for the first quarter "indicated that the hotel industry continued to struggle," D'Aguilar said. "While the number of available rooms increased by 1.1%, room revenue, average daily rates and revenue per available rooms all fell.

"The hospitality numbers are a concern for us, although we've seen an uptick in group business, which took a hit in 2016," he said.

The hotel sector has been slow to recover from 2016's challenges, which included Zika, the rise of the sharing economy and pre-election jitters.

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