Above: the Turks and Caicos Islands
By Alexander Britell
MIAMI — The Turks and Caicos Islands is the fastest-growing tourism destination in the wider Caribbean region, Caribbean Journal has learned.
The Turks and Caicos Tourist Board reported a 50 percent increase in stopover arrivals to the archipelago last year, by far the highest of any destination in the Caribbean in 2014.
That was a total of 435,475 stopover arrivals in 2014, up from 290,587 stopover arrivals in 2013, according to the data.
In an interview with Caribbean Journal, Turks and Caicos Islands Tourist Board Director Ralph Higgs said the rise was due to a number of factors.
“I certainly think not least about them is we had a good push from Mother Nature — unseasonably cold weather up North was a contributing factor,” he said. “But I also think perhaps the biggest contributing factor was accessibility to our destination. We have very good airlift from most of our gateways in North America, and we’ve had additional lift from JFK and Boston. And there’s a stepped up co-op marketing campaign with the Tourist Board and some of its private sector partner. And we’ve increased our co-op relationship with many of the major wholesalers that sell Turks and Caicos. I think that they are the contributors to what is happening here.”
Higgs told CJ that the rapid growth was in line with several years of double-digit growth for the TCI, even in the wake of the financial downturn.
“We had one of our highest years in 2011,” he said. “But we were experiencing double-digit growth even during the height of the crisis — and while that growth slowed, we didn’t see any decline in growth there. I think that’s because of, generally, the way the destination has been positioned. The clientele that patronizes [the TCI], they tend to be a little more recession-proof.”
The next-fastest-growing destination in the Caribbean 2014 was Grenada, which posted growth of 18.4 percent last year, according to an analysis by Caribbean Journal.
So how does the TCI build on this level of growth?
Higgs said a major priority would be continuing to diversify the country’s source markets, and by focusing on improving what tend to be slower months for the region like August, September and October.
And that’s borne out in the numbers.
The Turk and Caicos saw one of its biggest single improvements last year in typically-slow October, when it welcomed 36,399 tourists — a whopping 131.6 percent higher than October 2013.
“The greatest periods of growth were the traditionally slow months for the region,” he said. “That supports a strategy that we continue to try and introduce to diversify our source markets, and look very closely at markets that have opposite seasons to North America. And I think we will accelerate our push in that direction. And if we can grow the summer months here then we can expand on that growth.”
He also said the TCI was working to expand its hotel product beyond the traditional hub of Providenciales to places like South Caicos, Middle Caicos, Grand Turk and Salt Cay.
“We are now concentrating on shining the spotlight on our sister islands,” he said. “If we can bring those destinations under the spotlight and people see them for what they have to offer, there may be some real possibilities for continued growth.”