Last updated: 07:00 PM ET, Fri June 03 2016

Caribbean Destinations Continued Arrivals Growth Trend In Early 2016

Destination & Tourism | Brian Major | June 03, 2016

Caribbean Destinations Continued Arrivals Growth Trend In Early 2016

PHOTO: Karolin Troubetzkoy, Hugh Riley, CTO’s secretary general and Richard Sealy (right), CTO’s chairman, address media at Thursday’s Caribbean Week press briefing. (Photo courtesy of CTO).

Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) officials on Thursday issued first-quarter visitor numbers that add up to continuing growth for the region’s destinations following a strong 2015.

CTO’s 24 member nations posted a 7.3 percent year-over-year collective arrivals increase for the period between January and April, said Richard Sealy, CTO’s chairman. Caribbean visitor arrivals are expected to surpass 30 million for the first time ever this year, Sealy said at a press conference during CTO’s Caribbean Week conference in New York.

The positive first-quarter results follow last year’s strong 7 percent full-year growth and record 28.7 million arrivals for CTO member countries. In all, 8.5 million international travelers visited Caribbean destinations in the first quarter of 2016, exceeding 2015’s total by 580,000.

First quarter 2016 Caribbean travel was buoyed by a resurgent North American market said Sealy, who is also Barbados’ minister of tourism and international transport. “This performance was buttressed by lower oil prices and the strong U.S. dollar, which increased the appeal of the region to potential visitors,” he said.

Sealy also cited “the many air service agreements ensured that the region had adequate seats to facilitate the flow of travelers to and within the region.” Several major airlines, including Delta Air Lines, Jet Blue Airways and United Airlines, have expanded their Caribbean routes over the past year.

While he did not provide arrivals data from individual countries, Sealy said 19 CTO member destinations improved on their first-quarter 2015 performance, with eight posting first quarter 2016 arrivals growth of 10.5 to 26.8 percent.

The most recent CTO numbers present a stark contrast to various reports of a less robust early 2016, as regional destinations faced potential travel barriers ranging from Zika virus fears to a mild winter to the looming U.S. presidential election.

READ MORE: Caribbean Destinations Posted Record Arrivals and Spending in 2015

Most notably, travel research firm STR last month reported first quarter Caribbean hotel occupancy declined three percent year-to-date to 72.9 percent, while average daily rate declined 1.4 percent and revenue per available room dropped 4.4 percent during the same period.

STR officials attributed the decline largely to travelers’ Zika concerns, with Steve Hennis, STR’s vice president for consulting and analytics, saying “the overriding issue appears to be fear over the Zika virus.”

At Thursday’s press conference, Karolin Troubetzkoy, president of the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association (CHTA), refuted the notion that Zika alone would impact first-quarter occupancy. Troubetzkoy’s St. Lucia-based resorts Jade Mountain and Anse Chastanet are among the Caribbean’s premiere luxury properties.

“Caribbean hotels and destinations faced a mild winter and currency issues in Canada and the U.K.,” she said. “Also evidence from past years has shown that bookings are impacted when there is a presidential election or an Olympic Games. It’s incorrect to attribute [occupancy declines] to one factor. ”

Sealy said the lower hotel occupancy figures represent the growing contingent of visitors who are opting for “non-traditional accommodations” including AirBnb stays.

“I don’t think we should underestimate the impact of Airbnb and other home-stay programs,” he said. “We are seeing increased arrivals, but many folks are opting to go for these non-traditional accommodations.

“What we see in Barbados is that the profile of these people has changed, he added. “We are not talking about back packers but people we normally associate with five-star hotels who opted to go in that direction.”

The CTO has projected growth of between 4.5 percent and 5.5 percent in 2016. “The CTO continues to work feverishly with our members to see how they can improve their product offerings and diversify their markets,” said Sealy.

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