The Caribbean Tourism Organization is forecasting strong growth in arrivals across the region in 2019 as hurricane-hit destinations continue their recovery from the destructive storm season of 2017.

The Caribbean saw a 2.3 percent decline in arrivals last year, the CTO reports. But strong performance across the region in the latter half of the year has stoked confidence that this year will see significant growth in cruise and air arrivals.

“We are projecting that tourist arrivals will increase by between 6 and 7 percent in 2019, as the damaged infrastructure in the hurricane-impacted destinations returns to capacity. Similarly, cruise arrivals should expand by a further 4 percent to 5 percent,” Ryan Skeete, CTO’s acting director of research, said at the Caribbean Tourism Performance Review news conference last week.

The Cayman Islands was one of the highest performing destinations in the region last year, according to data from the CTO. Only Guyana, Belize and St. Kitts and Nevis saw higher percentage increases in air arrivals than the Cayman Islands’ 10.7 percent. It was a split picture across the region, however, with Puerto Rico, Sint Maarten and the U.S. Virgin Islands among the hurricane-impacted islands that saw a significant decline in arrivals.

The anticipated recovery of those islands in 2019 could mean a decline in market share for the Cayman Islands.

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But the CTO remains confident that the overall expected increase in arrivals will mean islands across the region benefit.

Mr. Skeete added, “With a strong performance during the last four months of 2018, including a robust showing by countries impacted by the 2017 hurricanes, the evidence suggests that Caribbean tourism is on the upswing.”

He said the CTO was cautiously optimistic about its projections but warned of “significant headwinds,” including the outcome of the Brexit negotiations in the U.K., the ongoing trade war between the United States and China and potential extreme weather events in the destinations and marketplaces.

Overall, there were 29.9 million tourist visits to the Caribbean in 2018, a decline on 2017, but still the second best year on record for the region.

Cruise visits to Caribbean destinations at the end of 2018 increased by an estimated 6.7 percent over 2017. This meant that the region received an estimated 28.9 million cruise visitors, some 1.8 million more than the 27.1 million in 2017.

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