What's on tap for some of the Caribbean's hot spots in 2016? Based on visitor gains in 2015 and other factors such as airlift expansion and hotel development, here are several island destinations to keep an eye on this year.
* Look for Barbados to regain a prominent spot with American travelers due to expanded airlift, new resorts and an aggressive marketing strategy and campaign by Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc.
The country’s visitor numbers topped 432,713 through September, a 14.5% jump over the same period in 2014. U.S. arrivals increased 27.9% during the same time, and cruise arrivals are slated to post increases of 5% to 7% through September 2016, due to 16 inaugural visits in the current cruise season, according to William Griffith, the CEO of Barbados Tourism Marketing.
The 280-room Sandals Barbados, which opened early last year, plans to open an additional 220 rooms this year.
* Jamaica is gearing up for another year of growth, according to Wykeham McNeill, its tourism minister. Visitor arrivals jumped 5.5% through September and cruise passengers increased by more than 105,000.
Expanded airlift accounts for 60,000 additional airline seats into Jamaica for the current winter season.
Hotel developments this year include groundbreaking on two five-star Ocean by H10 Hotels properties on the north coast and the start of nine Jamaican hotels by Karisma Hotels & Resorts, a project that is expected to take eight to 10 years.
The new Aman Resorts' Amanera signals a development spurt on the north coast of the Dominican Republic.
AMResorts’ Sunscape brand opened two properties in late December in Montego Bay.
* Tourism in St. Kitts is growing “by leaps and bounds, and our economy is enjoying strong growth,” according to Prime Minister Timothy Harris.
Hotel developments include the 125-room Park Hyatt hotel opening later this year in the Christophe Harbor resort community (a 226-suite Embassy Suites by Hilton is set to debut in early 2017).
United Airlines launched weekly nonstop service from Newark to St. Kitts in late December.
* Despite the economic woes battering Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. said that recent campaigns to promote the country, expand airlift and support hotel and cruise development appear to be working.
Hotel occupancy increased 6% in 2015 over 2014, nine new ships are scheduled to visit in the current cruise season and San Juan’s Condado area is in the midst of a revival.
There are several other Caribbean destinations to watch this year.
Cuba's visitor numbers topped a record-setting 3.1 million through October, up 17.6% over the same period in 2014.
The Cayman Islands will welcome the 266-room Kimpton Seafire Resort & Spa on Grand Cayman in November and will begin construction on a $250 million luxury resort at St. James Point on Grand Cayman.
On the north coast of the Dominican Republic, Aman Resorts’ Amanera resort opened in late November; more hotel development is planned for the area.
Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, the Bahamas, Curacao and Grenada all have hotel development and expansions on their drawing boards.