A deeper dive into the Caribbean Tourism Organization's recently released Caribbean Tourism Performance Report shows some remarkable numbers posted by several destinations well out of the wrath of last year's hurricanes, which helped boost the region's total to the record 31.7 million visitors.
Of course, it's understandable that the annual arrival numbers decreased between 7% and 18% in the islands most affected the storms, with most of those decreases occurring in Q4.
But St. Lucia, for example, recorded the highest percentage of visitor growth in 2017 among the CTO member countries and broke its own records with total numbers climbing to an all-time high of 1.1 million stayover and cruise arrivals, up 11% over 2016.
"2017 was characterized by sustained growth in our tourism industry, an industry that continues to be an incredibly important part of the St. Lucian economy," said Dominic Fedee, minister of tourism information and broadcasting. "We're happy with the levels of growth witnessed, and as we continue our marketing efforts, we look to maximize tourism's impact on our economy."
St. Lucia has a new tourism slogan, Let Her Inspire You (the island country is the only one in the world named after a woman, bestowed by French colonizers in the 17th century). The country plans to emphasize village tourism this year, with the goal of turning its fishing and countryside villages into tourist destinations; wants to improve the facade of city centers in Soufriere and Castries and offer more authentic products; expand airlift; and "remind visitors that we are more than a beach destination," according to Fedee. "There is a lot to see and do."
Another standout in terms of 2017 visitor numbers was Jamaica, a consistent winner in the visitor arrival arena. Last year was no exception, with the country surpassing the 4.3 million mark, half-a-million higher than 2016, according to Edmund Bartlett, its minister of tourism.
"We remain firmly committed and convinced that our tourism industry is on the right track and that we will achieve our growth target of 'five in five' or a 5% annual growth rate in five years," he said.
Bartlett attributed Jamaica's tourism appeal to destination value, climate, "Irie" -- the emotion that Jamaicans exude -- an advanced infrastructure of 30,000 hotel rooms, an uptick in cruise calls, airlift connectivity and an abundance of heritage assets.
He said that the tourism sector has traditionally been resilient, but "its gentle balance can be easily disturbed by risks and threats, including global economic recessions, an oil crisis, political instability in source markets, environmental disasters, pandemics and epidemics, to name a few."