The Caribbean region is on a healthy upward curve, as indicated by its Q1 stayover visitor and cruise passenger arrival numbers.
That upswing permeated the recent Caribbean Week event in New York, which was sponsored by the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO).
While the increase in visitor arrivals for the region totaled 9.1 million (970,000 more than the same period in 2018), individual destinations chalked up impressive gains as well in specific months from January through May.
Jamaica, for example, reported a 13.7% jump in stayover arrivals in April (232,834 versus 204,734 in April 2018); air traffic into San Juan in May rose 9.3%, growing from 710,605 arrivals in May 2018 to 776,383 this May; and the Virgin Islands chalked up an impressive 94.8% gain in air arrivals in Q1 to 192,662 versus 98,897 in the same period in 2018.
Although optimism was in the air, tourism and government officials attending various Caribbean Week events admitted that there's work to be done and challenges ahead to maintaining the current momentum.
I sensed more energy and more determination to focus on what's needed for the region to effectively compete with global destinations that are luring and attracting visitors that otherwise might be headed to the islands.
Dominic Fedee, chairman of CTO, was realistic about what has to be done.
"More and more destinations are competing for the same visitors we are. We have to reinvent, reimagine and reinnovate. We cannot be complacent," Fedee said. "The Caribbean needs to implement a sustainable marketing initiative to optimize opportunities. The public sector must collaborate more effectively with the private sector, because we recognize that all of us are in a better position when we do this together rather than separately."
Promoting and keeping the product fresh are as critical as positioning those products (attractions, activities and accommodations, among others) to appeal to all age groups and to guarantee that the visitor arrivals continue, according to the chairman.
As examples, he cited millennials, "who bring energy and excitement with them when they travel. They come with a sense of adventure and are looking for that in the destinations they visit. The Caribbean region has much to offer in the areas of adventure, wellness, nightlife, water and action sports and many opportunities to sample culture, culinary and wellness offerings," Fedee said. "We recognize the value of this demographic group, but to get them and keep them, we must market, promote and surpass their expectations when they travel here."
Of equal importance, he said, is the baby boomer sector, who have money and time to travel.
"This age group is in the third period of their lives," Fedee said. "They want to travel, and many of them book upscale accommodations, bring their entire families with them and spend a lot when they are here. We're keeping our eyes on this group."
Paul Pennicook, CEO of the Curacao Tourist Board, agreed with Fedee about the need for the region to communicate and cooperate more effectively with the private sector.
"It's critical to market as a region successfully and for all of us to work together to make this happen," he said.
While Cuba is not a member of the CTO, the country did come up in impromptu discussions, given that the Trump administration's latest travel restrictions, including a ban on many forms of educational and recreational travel, were announced during Caribbean Week.
Most attendees were still trying to figure out what the restrictions meant and how they might impact their island or the region as a whole.
While the CTO did not issue a formal statement, Fedee said, "Our position is what it has always been, that we support frictionless travel, which means travel without roadblocks."