Biggest Winners and Losers in the Caribbean and Latin America for 2015
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High Times in Jamaica: Jamaica is headed toward another year of impressive tourism growth, recording a 5.5 percent increase in visitor arrivals between January and September of 2015 according to tourism minister Wykeham McNeill. Supported by a comprehensive tourism marketing platform led by the government-run Jamaica Tourist Board, the growing arrivals have encouraged new hotel and resort development across the island.
Jamaica hosted 1.6 million visitors during the period, a total that exceeded 2014 by 38,000 visitors, McNeill said. Jamaica has also hosted 105,000 more cruise ship arrivals in the first three quarters of 2015 than last year.
Jamaica’s success is due in large part to its popularity among U.S. vacationers, who drove the arrivals increase. Jamaica has secured an additional 60,000 airline seats for the upcoming 2015-2016 winter season; 50,000 will originate in the U.S., Mc Neill said.
The new flights come as Jamaica’s resort inventory also undergoes an expansion. Jamaica will gain another $200 million worth of new hotel and resorts by the end of 2015, McNeill said. Jamaica’s government is also formulating a plan to manage traveler access to the Blue and John Crow Mountains, recently designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
All Hail Haiti: Decades after political and social instability removed the country from U.S. travel itineraries, Haiti is making a strong return as an exotic Caribbean vacation destination. Haiti’s Ministry of Tourism and Creative Industries (MTIC) has worked tirelessly – and successfully – to re-establish the country’s tourism industry.
MTIC has forged partnerships with hoteliers and entrepreneurs to develop $345 million in investment projects tied to tourism and related services. The projects include large-scale initiatives to improve existing sites and tourist infrastructure in Haitian districts including Ile-à-Vache, Côtes-de-Fer, Jacmel, Ile de la Tortue, Cap-Haïtien and Côte des Arcadins, and the addition of 2,180 new hotel rooms around the country.
MTIC’s success is evident in the country’s growing arrivals on land and sea. The country recorded 166,029 overnight arrivals between January and April of 2015, a 9.8 percent increase over the same period in 2014. Overall, Haiti hosted 1,127,577 visitors in 2014, a 10.8 percent increase compared with 2013. The figure includes 662,403 cruise ship passengers and 465,174 overnight, land-based tourists.
Barbados Big Time: Barbados took significant strides in 2015 to recapture its one-time popularity among American travelers. By nearly every measure, from land and sea arrivals to airlift and resort openings, the country reported positive developments in 2015. Barbados recorded 432,713 overnight visitors between January and September, a 14.5 percent increase over 2014; arrivals from the U.S. increased by 27.9 percent during the period.
Furthermore, the southern Caribbean nation’s cruise ship arrivals increased by five to seven percent through September, driven by 16 inaugural visits, said William Griffith, CEO of Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. (BTMI). JetBlue Airways launched its Mint premium service between Barbados and New York this year, and also premiered new direct service from Boston. Sandals Barbados, which opened earlier this year, will expand with an additional 220 rooms in 2016.
“This year we have seen growth in all of the major areas of importance, including airlift, accommodations, and programmes to enhance the quality of our tourism product,” said Griffith.
Baha Mar’s Bad Outcome: The long-awaited inaugural season of the $3.5 billion Baha Mar mega-resort in Nassau, Bahamas never occurred in 2015. In its place was a disastrous meltdown that ended careers for 2,000 Bahamian workers, ruined vacations for thousands of travelers, wrecked agreements with major hoteliers and tour operators, and riled the Bahamian and Chinese governments.
Although 97 percent complete, the mega-resort remained unopened as its developer, construction firm and financier spent the entire year locked in a bitter insolvency battle. As a result, the Bahamas and its taxpayers are on the hook for a reported $58.8 million in unpaid taxes, fees and utility bills.
Baha Mar’s hotel partners have lost what may be millions of dollars in unfulfilled bookings. In August, Rosewood Hotels and Resorts sought to end its association with the mega-resort, claiming the impasse was tarnishing the hotelier’s brand. Baha Mar’s Facebook page is now a logbook of complaints from vacationers whose plans were ruined by the resort’s failure.
The project remains stalemated following the Bahamas Supreme Court’s recent delay on liquidation hearings, now scheduled to take place in February. Rumors of a takeover by a Sol Kerzner-led group emerged in November, but at present there is no resolution in sight.
Bermuda’s slide continues: There’s actually reason for optimism regarding Bermuda’s tourism future. The country will host the 2017 America’s Cup sailing race; the event will focus international attention on the destination while highlighting boating, a popular Bermuda activity tied to island traditions. A premium hotel development in the St. George’s district, the island’s first new major property in decades, appears to be on track.
Nevertheless, Bermuda failed to reverse its dismal visitor arrivals growth in 2015. Bermuda hosted 54,473 air arrivals in the third quarter of 2015, an increase of less than one percent over the 54,305 arrivals recorded during the same period in 2014.
In November, Bermuda’s year-to-date air arrivals were down just under 1 percent, following a 5.1 percent decline in 2013, part of a decade-long decline during which Bermuda has fallen far behind the arrivals pace set by other warm-weather destinations.
“The three quarters completed of 2015 have been difficult,” said Michel Dunkley, Bermuda’s premier, in an address at a one-day tourism summit hosted earlier this month by BTA. “The results to date have not been what we wanted.”
Disaster in Dominica: The tiny Caribbean nation’s misfortunate was due to an event entirely outside of its control: Tropical Storm Erika, which killed 20 island residents and swamped villages, washed out bridges and shattered homes and businesses across the island in August.
The event left hundreds of residents homeless and led the government to launch a recovery and reconstruction fund to mitigate the “monumental” devastation. While some tourism sites remain inaccessible, the recovery is continuing and the majority of the island’s 94 hotels and resorts are open.
Prior to the storm, Dominica enjoyed a growing profile as a top boutique Caribbean destination. The island hosted 81,472 overnight tourist arrivals in 2014, a solid 4.1 percent increase over 2013 based on Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) statistics. The country’s cruise tourism sector also grew in 2014, with 286,573 cruise passenger arrivals, a 24.3 percent increase compared with 2013 shipboard arrivals.
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