"There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind" is a quote from writer C.S. Lewis. And it served as the tone for the 2019 message from Patricia Affonso-Dass, president of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association.
She's optimistic about the opportunities that lie ahead, but she cautioned that the region "must learn from the past, stay focused on the future and appreciate the importance of reinventing and improving our businesses, processes and people."
This current era of constant change requires everyone "to be nimble, adaptable and innovative," she said.
A message from Hugh Riley, secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, mirrored the sense of optimism and hope for the year just begun.
"For 2019 the outlook is bright for our destinations," he said. "We are optimistic because we are seeing signs that the lows imposed on us by Mother Nature during the latter part of 2017 into 2018 are being reversed." He cited the turnaround in the destinations most impacted by the hurricanes and said he was hopeful that the momentum and support that has developed since the storms of 2017 could continue unabated.
Both cited specific examples of progress made in the region: 5,000 new hotel rooms that came online last year and more than 25,000 now in construction and planning stages; the reinvestment and refurbishments in existing properties; the surge of new airlift; and the upgrades and expansions of several airport facilities.
"The demand among international visitors to visit the Caribbean is strong, [and] so is Caribbean nationals' quest to explore their neighboring destinations," Riley said.
He was frank, however, when he admitted that overall performance fell flat in 2018, with visitor numbers slowing in the third and fourth quarters despite increased demand earlier in the year.
"The tide is turning now, but there is still much work to be done," he said. "The declines for air arrivals have slowed and cruise passenger arrivals are projected to grow at an accelerated rate between 6% and 7% over last year.
Affonso-Dass said that cooperation, collaboration, communication and mutual respect were the elements necessary for communities, businesses, governments and destinations to excel and to lead in the Caribbean.
"We are a world-class region with a rich heritage and legacy, so we must continue to embed excellence and innovation within our culture and across our industry to stay ahead of our competition," she said.