Last updated: 04:30 PM ET, Fri February 19 2016

Rosy CTO Report Leading To Cautious Optimism in Caribbean

Destination & Tourism | Brian Major | February 19, 2016

Rosy CTO Report Leading To Cautious Optimism in Caribbean

PHOTO: Puerto Rico is among the most-visited Caribbean destinations, according to the CTO. (Photo by Brian Major)

In announcing record 2015 visitor arrivals for Caribbean destinations this week, Hugh Riley, secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) said the results demonstrate the Caribbean “is a place to which people want to travel. It is perceived as exotic, fun and safe.”

It’s hard to argue with Riley’s assessment. Although clearly challenged by issues ranging from seasonal severe weather to Zika virus concerns, Caribbean destinations continue to attract new travelers and repeat visitors.

“If you were to leave here and visit any one of our 28 member destinations right now you would find millions of visitors out and enjoying themselves,” Riley said.

The Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas drew the lion’s share of visitors in 2015, said CTO. The highest year-over-year arrivals growth rates were posted by Barbados (27.6 percent), Curacao (15.3 percent) and Trinidad & Tobago (14.9 percent).

Ironically the region’s success was such that tourism officials in a few CTO destinations were almost apologetic after their countries posted static or marginal arrivals growth for 2015. Conversely, officials in countries that rode the crest of the growth wave were careful to temper expectations for 2016.

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The Cayman Islands posted record visitor arrivals in 2015 but year-over-year growth of only 0.7 percent. The lower growth follows years of increases and reflects the country’s relative lack of hotel capacity, said Moses Kirkconnell, the Cayman Islands’ tourism minister, in a Cayman Compass interview following the CTO announcement.

The Cayman Islands posted a double-digit overnight arrivals increase in 2014, its largest annual visitor total since 2000. But 2015 has been different, although Kirkconnell says “daily room rate in Cayman is up 10 percent.”

“We have no more rooms, our rooms are full,” he said. “It is not a fair assessment to look at Cayman and say because we didn’t have six percent growth that we’re not doing well.”  

The Cayman Islands’ new hotel development has indeed been slow compared with other regional destinations. Nevertheless, there are signs of activity as the Cayman Brac Beach Resort opened recently on the site of the former Brac Reef Beach Resort. Last year, the government inked an agreement for a 200-room hotel on Beach Bay in Grand Cayman’s Bodden Town district. In addition, a 208-room Kimpton Hotel is scheduled to open this year and a 208-room Hilton Grand Cayman is planned for 2017.

Meanwhile Barbados tourism minister Richard Sealy sought to place the country’s explosive 2015 arrivals growth in perspective.

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Barbados can expect continued tourism growth in 2016 but “no one could expect that kind of growth to be repeated year on year,” said Sealy in a report. The country’s arrivals growth “was higher than the average growth for the Caribbean region over the last two years combined,” he said.

Still, Barbados is also poised to add to its hotel and resort inventory in the near future. The Sandals Barbados resort is undergoing a 220-room expansion and the former Sandy Bay resort is being converted into The Sands condominiums.

Construction on a Beaches hotel planned for the former Almond Beach Village, the new Wyndham-branded Sam Lords Castle hotel, and the Carlisle Bay Hyatt Hotel are also expected to launch this year.

Regardless of expectations, Sealy said Barbados’ Ministry of Tourism and the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. agency are engaged in several initiatives to boost 2016 visitor arrivals, including programs tied to the country’s jubilee celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of its independence. 

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