After September’s devastating hurricanes, some good news is finally coming from the Caribbean. Despite the storms, the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) has announced that tourism reached a milestone in 2017, surpassing 30 million stay-over/tourist visits for the first time and with an estimated $37 billion in total visitor spending.
Stay-over arrivals were on track for a strong performance during the first-half of 2017, growing by an estimated 4.8 percent; however, there was a major slowdown in the second half due to the impact of the September hurricanes as tourist visits declined by 1.7 percent. These outcomes resulted in an overall increase of 1.7 percent to reach 30.1 million visits. This growth makes 2017 the eighth consecutive year of growth in the Caribbean, albeit slower than the average global growth rate of 6.7 percent.
Among the destinations, tourist arrivals showed uneven growth. Several countries reported double-digit increases in 2017 such as Saint Lucia (11 percent), Belize (10.8), and Bermuda (10.3), while the hurricane-impacted countries recorded decreases ranging from -18 to -7 percent. Increasesed air access and investments in hotels were listed among the top reasons for the growth.
Regarding the major Caribbean sub-regions, the U.S. Territories (-7.9 percent), the Dutch Caribbean (-6.6) and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) (-3.6) all saw a decline in travelers, while the “Other Caribbean,” comprising Cancun, Cozumel, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Suriname, recorded an increase of 6 percent.
Most major source markets recorded growth except from the South American and Caribbean markets, which declined by 6.5 and 1.3 percent, respectively. The U.S., grew by roughly 0.5 percent to reach an estimated 14.9 million visits to the region. Arrivals from the European market totaled 5.8 million and improved by an estimated 6.2 percent, the strongest growth among the main markets. Visits from Canada rebounded in 2017, growing by 4.3 percent compared to a decline of 3.1 percent in 2016.
Despite the slight increase in arrivals to the region, hotel occupancy fell by 1.2 percent, according to STR, Inc (formerly Smith Travel Research), a U.S. company that tracks supply and demand data for the hotel industry. However, the primary revenue metrics were up: average ADR increased by 1.9 percent to $204.64, and revenue per available room grew by 0.7 percent to $135.85.
Note: the hotel performance indicators excluded most of the hurricane-impacted destinations at this time, due to the disruption in operations.
As a result of the hurricanes causing significant disruption for airlines, seat capacity fell by 7.2 percent in the fourth quarter, according to OAG, an air travel intelligence company. Nevertheless, overall seat capacity increased by 1.7 percent in 2017, boosted by a strong first-half performance.
Cruise passenger arrivals also set a new high in 2017, reaching an estimated 27 million visits to the region, which is 2.4 percent higher than 2016. The cruise passenger performance mirrors the performance of tourist arrivals, as it grew strongly (4.6 percent) in the first half of 2017, but contracted marginally (-0.4 percent) in the second half of the year. In September, cruise passenger arrivals fell dramatically by roughly 20 percent. However, growth resumed in October, with a 2 percent increase.
Total visitor expenditure is estimated to have increased by approximately 2.6 percent to reach $37 billion in 2017. This performance marks the eighth consecutive year of growth. Overall, stay-over visitors spent an estimated $34.2 billion or $1,230 per trip compared to $1,129 per trip in 2016.
The CTO notes that global economic conditions are expected to be favorable in 2018, and that all major markets are projected to grow strongly. The downsides, as the CTO points out, are rising geopolitical tensions, the persistent threat of major terrorist attacks, and the heightened risk of extreme weather events. Consequently, the CTO projects that tourist arrivals will increase between 2 and 3 percent in 2018.