Quantcast

Tourism up in Caribbean last year

BERT WILKINSON Special to the AmNews | 2/24/2012, 10:04 p.m.

There is evidence that tourist arrivals to the Caribbean are on the rebound after several soft years following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the effects of the global economic crisis, which hit North American and European vacationers hardest.

The Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) now says that Canadian travelers are leading a revival in most of its 30-plus member destinations as far as stay-over visitors are concerned, but the situation is not the same for the sometimes volatile cruise industry.

A total of 23.8 million people spent millions in the region last year, representing 3.3 percent more than those who chose a CTO member state as their favored destination for time off in the previous year.

"The Caribbean tourism industry is holding its own, remaining afloat and resilient amid turbulence in the marketplace. Tourist arrivals to the Caribbean region remained buoyant in 2011, continuing the recovery process that began in 2010," said Sean Smith, a CTO spokesman, from the organization's head office this week.

But he warned that the story of the vital cruise sector is not as encouraging as the long-stay visitor, noting that cruise liner patronage remained flat and stagnant, rising a mere 0.3 percent to 20.6 million visitors.

The slow but steady rebound of land-based tourism represents good news for the industry, whose energies have been somewhat distracted by a protracted fight with British authorities to remove a punitive tax on individual airline ticket sales. The tax has made traveling to the region much more expensive than in the past.

Vacationers to the region have had ticket charges increased at least twice since the David Cameron administration introduced the Air Passenger Duty as an environmental levy, as well as to help it balance its budget in the past two years. Another increase is set for this year.

No amount of lobbying from Caribbean governments nor direct negotiations with British Foreign Secretary William Hague at a meeting in Grenada earlier this year have helped persuade the British to reduce the tax.

It is no surprise then that European arrivals are down to a mere 0.6 percent increase, compared to 7 percent for the apparently better off Canadians.

The CTO says that this year, the region will have to keep an eye on oil prices, the global employment market and other factors even as it predicts that the region won't exceed 3 percent growth in either of the two sectors this year.