Last updated: 04:31 PM ET, Tue March 10 2015

Turks & Caicos Emerges As Fastest-Growing Caribbean Destination

Destination & Tourism | Brian Major | March 10, 2015

Turks & Caicos Emerges As Fastest-Growing Caribbean Destination

PHOTO: Turks & Caicos hoteliers will look to expand the destination’s offerings beyond Providenciales’ Grace Bay Beach. (Photo by Brian Major)

Several Caribbean destinations recorded strong visitor arrivals growth in 2014. But no Caribbean country experienced a year quite like the Turks & Caicos, where tourist arrivals surged by 31.6 percent in 2014 versus 2013, according to year-end data released last week by the Turks and Caicos Tourist Board (TCTB).

In all, the Turks & Caicos hosted 1,407,313 visitors in 2014, with 435,475 land-based, overnight travelers arriving primarily at Providenciales International Airport, and 971,838 cruise-ship travelers arriving on ships at the Grand Turk Cruise Center.

The Turks & Caicos’ 2014 land and cruise totals place the country squarely in the middle of the tourist-arrivals pack compared with other Caribbean destinations tracked by the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO). However the Turks & Caicos is far ahead of the field in terms of arrivals growth. Only a handful of CTO destinations could match the Turks & Caicos’ 2014 visitor growth on land and sea.

Land-based overnight arrivals at Providenciales International Airport in the Turks and Caicos virtually doubled in 2014, increasing 49.9 percent to 435,475 in 2014 compared with 290,587 in 2013. In fact, the overnight visitor numbers may actually be higher. TCTB officials said private aircraft arrivals were up significantly in 2014 versus 2013. However arrivals via private aircraft are excluded from TCTB’s overall 2014 statistical report.

Nevertheless, the Turks & Caicos’ 49.9 percent overnight visitor growth in 2014 far outpaced the entire Caribbean region in 2014. CTO places Caribbean overnight arrivals growth at 5.3 percent (based on 26.3 million visitors) for 2014.

The Turks & Caicos also blew past other Caribbean destinations in terms of overnight visitor growth, more than doubling the 2014 growth of Grenada, CTO’s next fastest-growing destination, with an 18.4 percent overnight arrivals increase.

Turks & Caicos tourism officials said last year’s unseasonably cold weather in much of the United States as a factor in the Turks & Caicos’ robust arrivals growth. Officials also cited the destination’s strong air transportation links. “The accessibility to our destination is perhaps the biggest contributing factor to the exceptional growth experienced in 2014,” said Ralph L. Higgs, TCTB’s director of tourism.

“We have reliable and convenient airlift from most of the major gateways in North America, and we’ve also included additional lift from JFK in New York and out of Boston’s Logan International Airport,” he added.

Meanwhile the Turks & Caicos’ cruise ship arrivals growth was fourth behind Martinique (71.3 percent), Belize (42.6 percent) and Trinidad & Tobago (30.1 percent). Yet the country’s 24.8 percent cruise ship arrivals growth ranked the Turks & Caicos ahead of 24 other Caribbean destinations in 2014.

In fact, the Grand Turk Cruise Center welcomed 971,838 cruise passengers in 2014, the largest passenger contingent in the port’s nine-year history. In addition to the 24.8 percent arrivals growth, the port hosted a 32.9 percent increase in ship calls in 2014, with 343 vessel calls in 2014 compared to 258 calls in 2013.

TCTB’s data also confirms the United States remains the number one visitor source market for the Turks & Caicos. U.S.-based travelers account for 80.7 percent of the country’s overnight arrivals in 2014. U.S. arrivals totaled 351,623 in 2014, a 51.8 percent increase over 2013. Canada posted a strong showing as well, ranking as the Turks & Caicos’ second largest source market with 47,413 stop-over arrivals in 2014, an increase of 49.1 percent compared with 2013.

Higgs said the TCTB has increased its marketing initiatives with private sector partners including “many of the travel agents and major wholesales that sell the Turks and Caicos.”  He said the destination also benefits from its strong identity among consumers as an upscale, easy-to-reach warm-weather getaway.

“The Turks and Caicos have maintained double-digit growth even during the recent years of financial downturn,” said Higgs. “The destination’s strong branding and positioning as well as the recession-proof clientele that patronize the Turks and Caicos keeps the destination on track for a steady annual performance.”

In 2015 destination officials will seek to expand the Turks & Caicos’ tourism offerings. Michel Neutelings, president of the Turks and Caicos Hotel and Tourism Association (TCHTA), said the destination, “is working to expand its hotel product beyond the traditional hub of Providenciales and Grace Bay Beach to the other beautiful islands as demand for additional accommodation, attractions, and niche offerings has increased.”

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