Last updated: 05:00 PM ET, Tue February 16 2016

CTO: Caribbean Destinations Posted Record Arrivals and Spending in 2015

Destination & Tourism | Brian Major | February 16, 2016

CTO: Caribbean Destinations Posted Record Arrivals and Spending in 2015

PHOTO: Trinidad & Tobago was one of the fastest-growing Caribbean destinations in 2015. (Photo by Brian Major)

Caribbean destinations enjoyed a picture-perfect 2015 in terms of visitor arrivals and spending, Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) officials said Tuesday. Last year’s arrivals and spending data set records and far exceeded expectations, said Hugh Riley, CTO’s secretary general.

“For the first time ever, the pace of growth of Caribbean tourism outperformed every major tourism region in the world,” said Riley. “It’s all good.”

Year-over-year tourist arrivals among CTO’s 28 member destinations grew by seven percent to 28.7 million in 2015, exceeding CTO’s projection of four to five percent growth. Caribbean arrivals exceeded the World Tourism Organization’s projected 4.4 percent global growth rate, said Riley.    

READ MORE: What Do Travel Agents Look For in Caribbean Resorts?

Travel from the U.S., the Caribbean’s largest source market (accounting for approximately 50 percent of all arrivals), increased 6.3 percent to 14.3 million in 2015. Canadian travelers increased 4.5 percent, totaling 3.4 million arrivals. The Caribbean posted its sixth consecutive year of arrivals growth in 2015 and the second consecutive year in which the region’s growth has exceeded the world average.

CTO’s study confirms recent data from the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association (CHTA), which in February reported more than 50 percent of member hoteliers reported occupancy and average daily rate (ADR) increases in 2015, and travel research firm STR, which said Caribbean hotels and resorts posted record-breaking ADR and revenue per available room in 2015.

The Caribbean’s record 2015 arrivals growth was driven by rising consumer confidence in the United States where “a strong dollar encouraged outbound travel among Americans,” said Riley. He also cited “increased air capacity and persistent marketing by Caribbean destinations and resorts plying for business in the United States.”

The majority of Americans visited the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and The Bahamas. The highest arrivals growth rates from the U.S. market were posted by Barbados (27.6 percent), Curacao (15.3 percent) and Trinidad & Tobago (14.9 percent).

Riley cited increased airline capacity dedicated to Caribbean destinations as driving 2015’s record arrivals, noting “frequent announcements throughout (2015) of new routes or additional flights on existing routes which connected major hubs to Caribbean destinations.”

Caribbean destinations benefited from the increased travel as visitors shopped at record levels in 2015, spending over $1 billion more in the region than in 2014. In all, Caribbean travelers spent $30 billion last year, said Riley, a 4.2 percent increase over the $28.8 billion spent in 2014.

“Needless to say, we are very pleased with the Caribbean’s performance of stayover arrivals in 2015,” Riley declared.

“Still, the Caribbean cannot be complacent,” he said. “We must continue to grow our traditional markets, strengthen emerging ones and penetrate new sources as we target the 30 million arrivals mark we set some years ago.” 

He added, “Our efforts to improve our product quality, enhance our marketing, grow our rate base, increase our profitability and constantly offer excellent value for money must continue.”

While Caribbean cruise passenger arrivals increased year-over-year in 2015, the sector did not record the same growth levels as overnight, land-based arrivals, said Riley. An estimated 24.4 million cruise vacationers visited the Caribbean in 2015, a modest 1.3 percent increase over 2014.

Among CTO’s destination sub-groups, travel to the “Other Caribbean” group which includes Cancun and Cozumel, Mexico; Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Suriname recorded an 11.3 percent arrivals increase.

The Dutch Caribbean islands of Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Sint Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba recorded a collective 7.4 percent arrivals increase in 2015. Travel to the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) nations of Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands, Grenada, Dominica, Montserrat, Saint Lucia, St. Kitts & Nevis and St. Vincent & the Grenadines increased 2.1 percent. Every other sub-grouping recorded growth of at least three percent, said Riley.

READ MORE: Caribbean Insights: Looking Ahead at 2016's Hot Spots

Despite their 2015 success, Caribbean destinations face several significant challenges in 2016, including economic volatility in several source markets, China’s economic slowdown and continuing recessions in Brazil and other South American countries. 

“We have seen in recent weeks the dramatic falls in stock markets around the world and other extraneous factors which invariably impact travel,” said Riley. “However, falling oil prices and the strength of the U.S. dollar will have positive impacts on some key source markets. All factors considered, the CTO is forecasting a 4.5 per cent to 5.5 per cent increase in tourist arrivals in 2016.”

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