Last updated: 03:00 PM ET, Fri January 01 2016

Caribbean and Latin America Outlook 2016: The Biggest Stories for The Year Ahead

Destination & Tourism | Brian Major | January 01, 2016

Caribbean and Latin America Outlook 2016: The Biggest Stories for The Year Ahead

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Caribbean and Latin America 2016: What We're Watching in the New Year

Brazilian Bounce? The 2016 Summer Olympics will take place in Rio de Janiero, one year after Brazil hosted the FIFA World Cup. While success on the pitch escaped the soccer-loving country throughout the tournament, the event proved a huge triumph for Brazil tourism, bringing one million visitors to the country.

This year Brazilian tourism stakeholders will seek to repeat that success via an event that will perhaps draw even more attention. Henrique Alves, the country’s tourism minister, is launching “major projects” to ensure the country is again able to leverage an international sports event into a showcase for travel to Brazil. All eyes will again be on Brazil as the Olympics begin in August.

The Baha Mar Waiting Game The $3.5 billion mega-resort is now one year beyond its original opening date and seemingly further away from opening than at any time in that span. The Bahamas Supreme Court postponed until February a potential liquidation hearing, ensuring the vacant mega-resort, said to be 97 percent complete, will potentially remain closed through mid-2016.

The project’s failure to launch has harshly impacted employees, vacationers, suppliers, hotel partners, tour operators and the Bahamas government and taxpayers. In December the International Monetary Fund cited Baha Mar’s woes in downgrading the nation’s economic growth forecast to 1.5 percent for 2016.

A successful launch of the project would begin the road to recovery; it remains to be seen just when that might occur.

Aggressive Antigua Seeking to stimulate its meager visitor arrivals growth, the Antigua and Barbuda government is engaged in a variety of high-profile (and also high stakes) projects to improve the country’s tourist and transportation infrastructure and expand its accommodations base. 

In August the dual-island nation launched a new 247,569 square-foot terminal at V.C. Bird International Airport. The $100 million terminal addition and airport renovation doubled the facility’s capacity.

The airport expansion was accompanied by a flurry of new projects, including a $250 million Barbuda development backed by a partnership headed by Academy Award-winning actor Robert DeNiro and Australian businessman James Packer. The resort would be located on the site of Barbuda’s defunct K-Club resort.

Canadian travel supplier Sunwing Group will also build a 500-room Royalton resort adjacent to the Royal Antiguan hotel, said Gaston Browne, Antigua and Barbuda’s prime minister at a June press conference.

In addition, Chinese investor Yida Zhang is building a $740 million development on Antigua’s Guiana Island. The property will include two five-star hotels; 1,300 residential units; a casino and conference center; a golf course and a marina, said Browne. The massive development will be the Caribbean’s second largest, exceeded in cost only by the $3.5 billion Baha Mar development.

In June it was reported Sandals Resorts International was close to an agreement to purchase the Halcyon Cove Hotel from Antigua’s government. Finally, Antigua’s government has also signed a $200 million agreement with China’s Import-Export Bank for a new cruise ship terminal and facility in St. John, said Asot Michael, Antigua & Barbuda’s minister of tourism.

After a small 2.5 percent growth rate in 2014, Antigua’s tourist arrivals were down 4.2 percent between January and May of 2015. The coming projects will be critical to determining the country’s tourism future.

Tourism Reckoning Ahead for Belize: Norwegian Cruise Line is expected to debut Harvest Caye, a $50 million private cruise development featuring a floating ship pier, an island village, a lagoon for water sports and a beach area, in February. Located off the coastal town of Placencia, the project has been kept close to the vest by Norwegian officials, although it’s expected to have a significant impact on tourism to Belize, whose intimate character is undergoing change amidst strong tourist arrivals growth.

Harvest Caye’s debut will boost the country’s already strong cruise sector growth. Despite lacking a dedicated ship pier and terminal, Belize is on the verge of becoming the eighth Caribbean Tourism Organization destination to exceed one million annual cruise ship visitors. Belize hosted 986,131 cruise passengers in 2014, an explosive 42.9 percent increase over the 677,350 cruise vacationers hosted in 2013.

Despite a slowdown in 2015, Belize’s land-based tourism has also surged in recent years. Last year Belize recorded 321,217 land-based, overnight visitors, a 9.2 percent increase over 2013. While the 101,747 tourist arrivals hosted between January and March represents a slight 1.1 percent increase over 2014, the country is still considered on track to continue as a fast-growing Caribbean travel destination.

Indeed in September Dean Barrow, Belize’s prime minister, said the government would seek to build a new international airport on Ambergis Caye, one of the country’s top off-shore island destinations. The question for Belize is how the transition to mass tourism will impact the once-sleepy exotic destination.

Awaiting the St. Vincent’s Airport: Delays have plagued the launch of the $240 million Argyle International Airport in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) ever since the tiny Caribbean nation first announced the project in 2007. But recent events indicate the long-awaited facility may finally be completed.

Originally slated to open in 2011, the airport now appears set to debut in 2016 under the administration of Ralph Gonsalves, the country’s recently re-elected prime minister. Gonsalves is described in SVG media as a champion of the airport development.

The airport is officially scheduled to open at the end of 2015. Construction of the airport’s terminal building, departure lounge, concessions area, rooftop restaurant, conference center and parking areas are complete, say SVG officials.

The project has been a massive undertaking for the small nation, the most costly capital project in SVG history, representing nearly one half of the nation’s gross domestic product. The construction required engineers to carve through three mountains, fill in two valleys and bridge a river, said SVG officials.

The airport is being financed by the SVG government, with grants, donations and loans from countries including Cuba, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Mexico, Austria, Malaysia, Turkey, Qatar and Taiwan.

When complete the airport will handle about 1.5 million passengers annually, more than five times the number of passengers currently passing through the existing E.T. Joshua Airport.

Clearly a new international airport promises to alter SVG’s small-scale tourism profile. The country hosted 70,713 overnight visitors in 2014, fewer than any major Caribbean destination with the sole exception of Montserrat.

In the words of one tourism official, “St. Vincent and the Grenadines has no record of international travel because we have never had an international airport.”

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