PHOTO: Barbados has recorded a 5.6 percent visitor arrivals increase to date on 2016. (Photo by Brian Major).
Visitor arrivals are exceeding expectations for Caribbean destinations in 2016, buoyed by expanding air service and strong cruise-ship deployment. Several destinations posted record totals through the first nine months of this year and Caribbean tourism officials are hoping continued success in attracting travelers will drive Caribbean tourism to one of its most successful years in recent memory.
Despite challenges ranging from Zika virus fears to devastating storms including Hurricane Matthew, tourist trips to the Caribbean tourism grew 5.2 percent in the first six months of 2016 compared with the same period in 2015 said Hugh Riley, secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO).
This year’s increase follows the 28.7 million visits Caribbean destinations posted for all of 2015, a seven percent increase over 2015 and nearly double the 4.4 percent global growth rate reported by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). “While this is encouraging, we must not settle,” said Riley. “We certainly cannot relax until we become the world’s most desirable year-round, warm-weather destination.”
Seemingly in accordance with Riley’s vision, several CTO countries are reporting outstanding first-half visitor increases. The British Virgin Islands this month reported a 27.3 percent year-over-year increase for the period between January and July of 2016. The growth was achieved on land and sea, as the 280,876 overnight visitors from January to July 2016 reflected a 3.9 percent increase over 2015 and the 444,200 cruise visitors between January and July of 2016 totaled a whopping 47.7 percent increase over the same period last year.
Meanwhile, Belize has continued a strong year of visitor growth, recording 293,622 overnight visitors in the first nine months of 2016, a 16.4 percent increase over 2015. While Belize’s cruise ship arrivals are up a comparatively modest 1.3 percent in 2016, the country’s cruise ship should receive a significant boost with the opening of the $100 million Harvest Caye cruise ship port near Placencia later this month.
In Barbados, the 320,656 overnight visitors recorded between January and June represent a 5.6 percent increase over 2015. Moreover, visitors’ average length of stay during the period from January to June of 2016 increased to 9.6 days from 9.2 days one year ago, CT reports. Barbados’ 340,043 first-half cruise ship visitors are a four percent increase over 2015.
Even Bermuda, which throughout the decade has sought to reverse declining visitor arrivals, is enjoying a rebirth of its tourism business. The 107,963 overnight arrivals recorded between January and June represent a 7.0 percent increase over 2015. Furthermore, the country’s 154,153 cruise arrivals during the same period are a 5.0 percent increase over 2015.
In all 20 of the 27 destinations tracked by CTO posted positive overnight visitor arrivals growth in the first half of the year and 14 of those countries posted increases of five percent or more and nine reported increases of 10 percent or more. Success was less widespread in the cruise segment, as 13 of the 24 destinations CTO tracks in this category reported positive passenger growth in the first half of 2016.
Added Air Access
Expanding airline service across the region has played a key role in the region’s tourism growth. Government tourism officials in the British Virgin islands cited an agreement earlier this year between Delta Airlines and Seaborne Airlines to increase air access to the territory as crucial to the higher arrivals. The agreement allows customers to purchase a single ticket for select flights between the United States and the Caribbean, was cited as supporting visitor growth in the territory.
The pact “Will facilitate ease of travel to and from the British Virgin Islands,” said Dr. Orlando Smith, the country’s premier, “and help to position the destination as a more attractive jurisdiction for business and leisure travelers.”
Bermuda’s visitor growth comes amidst a surge in airline capacity committed to the destination. This week the country’s minister of tourism announced American Airlines will launch new year-round, weekly service between Philadelphia and Bermuda beginning January 14.
The increased air service heralds a tourism turnaround for the country after “decades of a steady erosion in [tourism’s] economic importance,” said Michael Fahy, Bermuda’s tourism minister, in a Bernews.com report. “For the first time in a generation, Bermudians can anticipate tourism actually growing its contribution to the Bermudian economy,” he added.
Caribbean air connections will also expand following the recent announcement of a new unilateral codeshare agreement between JetBlue, which has emerged as a major Caribbean carrier in recent years, and Cape Air, which provides service to several Caribbean destinations. From both cities, Cape Air operates flights to two dozen destinations.
JetBlue and Cape Air customers who purchase a codeshare itinerary from either carrier will utilize tickets that include flights operated by both carriers, plus conveniences including one-stop check-in and baggage transfer.