Nearly 25 million people visited the Caribbean last year.
That represented a 5.4 per cent increase over 2011 and the largest number of stay-over visitors in the past five years, according to Beverly Nicholson-Doty, chairwoman of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation.
Ms Nicholson-Doty presented the findings in a special State of the Industry Report, which was delivered live at the organisation’s Barbados headquarters and via the Internet for regional and international media. The figures, she said, gave reason for optimism.
“This optimism is based on the positive signs of growth following earlier down years. We are optimistic because we see arrival numbers rising, particularly out of North America; we see hotel revenues moving in the right direction, albeit with moderate acceleration and we see tourist spend on the increase,” she said.
“All the signs suggest Caribbean tourism is rallying,” she added. “The region as a whole has regained ground lost in the heat of the global economic depression in 2008 and 2009.”
She said the 5.4 per cent growth rate outpaced the rest of the world which had arrivals increases of 4 per cent on average.
Despite the positive figures, there were also some “stark realities” to face. These included suffering Caribbean destinations which relied on the British market.
“This is because the UK’s travelling population continues to be daunted by an ailing economy and further applications of the onerous air passenger duty,” Ms Nicholson-Doty said.
The drop in land-based visitors from the UK was 10 per cent.
“The number has declined significantly in the past three years in the backdrop of weak European economies and currently high airfares precipitated by substantial increases in air passenger duty in the last two years,” she said.
Cruise tourism had also been flat for the past three years, with shifting of schedules meaning increases in northern Caribbean activity were offset by reductions in the south. Intra-regional travel was also “sluggish,” she noted, with a 3 per cent overall increase. The Eastern Caribbean, however, reported declining traffic from neighbouring islands.
There was also a need to context the region’s performance with the wider global situation.
“Debilitating effects of the world economic crisis which led to caution and austerity on the part of governments and consumers alike, still linger,” she said. “These have manifested themselves in lower personal discretionary income and lower aggregate visitor spending.
“In the major advanced economies, weak growth, high unemployment, financial sector fragility and fiscal austerity are still major concerns which dampened economic performance in 2012 and the outlook for 2013,” she added. “The global economy is still pressured in the aftermath of the crisis of 2008-2009. However, international tourism proved resilient in 2012. The World Tourism Organization, the UNWTO, reported that over one billion international tourists travelled the world by the end of the year- 36 million more than in 2011.”
She said the United States market went up 4.1 per cent in 2012 compared to the previous year and this was holding steady compared to pre-recession levels. Canadian arrivals were the most buoyant with a 5.9 per cent increase last year.
Visitor spending was also strong during 2012, with $27.5 billion dollars spent during the year, a 3.6 per cent increase over 2011 and the third successive increase per year.