Good news for the Caribbean: tourist arrivals increased by a solid 9.7% during the first half of 2019 compared with the same period last year, according to Dominic Fedee, chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization.
"This performance was more than double the global average of 4.4%, and our numbers thus far for the second half of the year look strong," he said.
"CTO forecasts an increase of between 5% and 7% in stayover arrivals and 4% to 5% in cruise passenger visits for the remainder of 2019."
Fedee, who also serves as St. Lucia's minister of tourism, aviation, information and culture, updated the current state of Caribbean tourism during World Travel Market in London last week, and he supplied data to support the tourism growth in the region.
Between January and June, arrivals reached 17.1 million, which represented 1.5 million more than in the same period in 2018; April and May reported the biggest increases over the corresponding months last year.
Overall, the Caribbean welcomed 29.9 million visitors in 2018.
"The U.S. market grew by 20.2%, accounting for a first-half record of 8.9 million stayover visitors," he said. It was followed by Canada, up 2.4% in the first six months, but Europe was flat, at an increase of 0.4%.
Cruise boomed in the first half of the year, jumping to a record 16.7 million passengers, 1.3 million more than in the same period in 2018. The 8.1% growth rate "eclipsed that for similar periods in the last four years," according to the Fedee.
Big winners in terms of stayover arrivals included the usual quartet: Bahamas, 1.04 million, up 18.5%; Cuba, 2.5 million, up 2.4%; the Dominican Republic, 3.5 million, up 3.9%; and Jamaica, 1.3 million, up 10.9%.
(The numbers are only calculated for January through June, so they don't reflect any impact from a downturn in the Dominican Republic as a result of media coverage of tourism deaths.)
Diving deeper into the data, I saw that some of the highest percentage gains in visitors were experienced by some of the smaller destinations, whose tourism numbers aren't anywhere near the top guns and from destinations that were still reeling in early 2018 from the hurricanes.
Arrivals in the U.S. Virgin Islands, for example, jumped 56.2%, to 354,973.
Anguilla's percentage gain was off the charts, increasing 140%, to 55,878 visitors, due primarily to some of its biggest resorts coming back on line: Quintessence, Zemi Beach House, the Four Seasons Resort and Residences, The Reef by CuisinArt, Malliouhana, CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa and Belmond Cap Juluca.
Puerto Rico's 39% surge, to 840,993 stayover visitors, can be attributed in part to resort reopenings as well, including the Condado Vanderbilt; Hotel El Convento; the Caribe Hilton; La Concha Renaissance Resort; the El San Juan Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton; Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve; the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort; the Hilton Ponce Golf & Casino Resort; and the Condado Plaza Hilton.
St. Maarten/Martin's numbers for the first six months topped 171,543 visitors, an increase of 130%. The destination welcomed 177,819 visitors in all of 2018.