BRIDGETOWN, Barbados -- Tourist arrivals by air in 2002 to Caribbean destinations dropped 2.5% from 2001 figures, while cruise arrivals rose 10%, according to just-released statistics from the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

Cruise growth was highest in the Bahamas, 9.8% to 2.8 million; Belize, 564% to 319,690; the Cayman Islands, 29.6% to 1.5 million; Curacao, 6.1% to 318,378; and St. Maarten, 16.6% to 759,500.

Destinations which fared the best among air arrivals were Barbados, rising 15.8% to 123,489 visitors; Curacao, 21.9% to 38,947; Dominican Republic, 3.8% to 710,971; Grenada, 13.3% to 36,508; St. Lucia, 3.1% to 94,044 visitors. Jamaica grew by 1% to 924,322.

Visitor count also increased in Montserrat, Puerto Rico, Saba and St. Vincent & The Grenadines but figures are incomplete for the 12-month period.

Estimated growth in the region was highest from September to December 2002 when compared to the same period in 2001.

Although first-quarter 2003 figures are not yet in, the expected recovery, which was predicted late last year, has been "derailed" due to the Iraq war, erosion of consumer confidence and the economy, according to CTO research.

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