Boom? Bust? Flat?
None of the above.
The summer travel season in the Caribbean indicates slow but steady growth as the region continues its climb out of the recession doldrums.
In most cases, air arrivals and cruise volume are posting modest gains over summer 2010. Occupancy rates in the Caribbean through May averaged 69.5% vs. 66.1% in the same five months of 2010, according to Smith Travel Research (click chart).
Hotel revenues indicate small gains in certain sectors.
There was not much growth in average daily rate in the Caribbean during the first five months of the year — $181.66 compared with $180.74 — but revenue per available room rose 5.8%, to $126.44.
Those indicators are expected to remain steady through the fall.
Rather than heavily discount rates this summer, resorts continue to add value to packages in the form of free nights, breakfast, transfers and shopping deals.
Martinique’s Summer Spectacular, for example, gives the sixth night free at 10 properties. American Eagle is offering 50% discounts on fares from San Juan to the island.
Developers, meanwhile, are on the move. There are 19 projects under construction in the Caribbean, ranging from the Ritz-Carlton in Aruba to the mega Baha Mar complex in Nassau.
And while tourism ministers are quick to tout progress in regaining the U.S. traveler, many also are courting new visitor source markets around the globe, including Brazil, China, Turkey, India, Africa and Russia.
The Mexican Caribbean recently snagged new airlift from Europe to Cancun and the Riviera Maya, while the charter market from Russia to Jamaica could bring as many as 3,000 visitors to Jamaica this year.
The U.S. Virgin Islands’ tourism commissioner, Beverly Nicholson-Doty, reported a slight increase in arrivals year to date over 2010, helped along by niche markets, "which have responded well to our marketing efforts."
"We’re seeing an upswing in the dive, weddings, villa rental and meetings business," she said.
Additional flights on American from Miami this month and new JetBlue service in December paint a positive outlook for the rest of the year, according to Nicholson-Doty.
Jamaica, too, is upbeat. Cruise arrivals through May were up 12.6%, boosted in part by the March opening of the Falmouth port.
"We’re optimistic for continued growth this summer in stayovers and cruise passengers," said John Lynch, director of tourism.
Group travel also is on the upswing, according to Denise Hangsbleden of Travel Your Way in Belleville, Ill.
"I’ve seen some price drops, which would indicate that cruises as well as resorts are not selling out, although the ones I’ve booked are sold out," she said. "More people want to travel together in groups."
She has noticed a reluctance to travel to Mexico, both cruising and resort stays, due to security concerns.
"This has moved some of those customers to travel to the southern Caribbean. The safety concerns need to be addressed up front," Hangsbleden said.
Although Carnival’s deployment of the Carnival Miracle on a year-round basis from New York to Grand Bahama does not take place until 2012, the Bahamas is buoyed by the news.
"This will help the summer, typically a slow part of the year for us," said Carla Stuart, director of cruise development in the Bahamas’ Ministry of Tourism.
This summer, she said, "We’re doing pretty well. We’re optimistic we can improve our figures over last year."
Aruba’s Canadian numbers are pushing up its overall arrival numbers this year. U.S. figures rose 2% through May, while Canada posted an 18.7% jump.
"We see this trend continuing this summer but hope to recapture the U.S. market this winter," said Ronella Asjoe-Croes, CEO of the Aruba Tourism Authority.
Aruba is moving to diversify its market base and already is reaping results from Europe and Latin America in terms of lift and arrivals.
"The North American [market] is 65% of our total market, but we need new markets for balance," she said.