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Caribbean tourism registers growth

Bevan Springer | 2/13/2014, 11:06 a.m.
Bevan Springer

ST. THOMAS (Feb. 13)–The Caribbean has recorded a rise in visitor expenditure in 2013, with the spending rate outpacing that of visitor arrivals for the first time in three years.

The Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), an authority on Caribbean tourism arrival statistics and visitor spending, announced this week that visitors to the Caribbean spent an estimated $28.1 billion in 2013, up 2.3 percent over 2012. This was fueled by the accommodation sector, which recorded a 7.5 percent rise in room revenues, CTO Chairman and Commissioner of Tourism for the U.S. Virgin Islands Beverly Nicholson-Doty reported.

Quoting figures from Smith Travel Research, an American firm that tracks supply and demand data for the hotel industry, Nicholson-Doty observed that three main indicators for the accommodation sector—room rates, revenue per available room and occupancy—all showed positive signs of growth in 2013.

“There wasn’t a single month during 2013 that any of these indicators fell below 2012 levels,” said the CTO chairman at a news conference in St. Thomas, where she delivered the 2013 State of the Industry report.

In addition to increased expenditure, the CTO chairman pointed to dramatic rises in visitor arrivals from South America and travel within the region as evidence that the Caribbean’s tourism industry is showing signs of progress.

“We see progress in the record number of overall arrivals in 2013. Progress is also manifested in the rapid rise in the number of visitors from South America, who are coming to the Caribbean in record numbers. You can tell the industry is improving when a record number of Caribbean residents traveled within the region for leisure, despite the high cost of regional transportation,” she told journalists gathered at Government House.

An estimated 1.5 million tourists from South America visited the Caribbean last year, up 13 percent over 2012, and 70 percent higher than the 859,000 who visited in 2009. Meanwhile, travel among Caribbean destinations grew by 2.1 percent in 2013, with an estimated 1.6 million Caribbean people traveling for leisure.

However, the CTO chairman warned that these positive signs were tempered by a slowdown in the overall growth rate—a 1.8 percent rise in arrivals. That was a lot slower than the 4.9 percent increase in 2012. Still, the Caribbean welcomed more than 25 million stay-over visitors last year, up from 24.6 million in 2012.

Nicholson-Doty said that the U.S. market continued its recovery, with arrivals up nearly 3 percent, but that Canada was flat, with a marginal rise of 0.7 percent—the lowest year-over-year growth in this market since 1997. The U.K. and Europe were sluggish, with arrivals from the U.K. down to under a million visitors—a 1.4 percent drop—and Europe down overall 3.75 percent. Cruise passenger visits were up 2.7 percent to 21.8 million. The overall growth forecast for 2014 is encouraging.