The Caribbean region set an all-time record for visitor arrivals in 2019, according to a new report from the Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization.
Stayover arrivals to the Caribbean totaled 31.5 million, the highest total in the region’s history.
That represented a robust 4.4 percent increase in visitors, outpacing the global tourism growth rate of 3.8 percent reported by the World Tourism Organization.
It was also the highest rate of tourism growth in the Americas.
Of course, that 4.4 percent number didn’t tell the whole picture. The region’s second most-popular destination, Cuba, reported a more than 9 percent decline in arrivals, largely due to tightened restrictions on travel by Americans.
Removing the Cuba numbers, the rest of the Caribbean actually saw double-digit growth, a very positive trend for the region.
The visitor boom was accompanied by 30.2 million cruise passenger visits in 2019, marking the seventh consecutive year of growth for the cruise industry.
The latter saw a 3.4 percent increase in cruise passenger visits.
After two years of decline, the United States was the best-performing market, according to the report, with a 15 percent jump in stayover arrivals — and a record of 15.5 million Americans visiting Caribbean shores.
The Canadian market was largely flat, however, with 0.4 percent growth and a total of 3.4 million visits.
“The European market dipped by 1.4 per cent from 5.9 million in 2018 to 5.8 million,” said Neil Walters, the acting secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, who presented the data in a briefing this week. “The United Kingdom was down by 5.6 per cent to approximately 1.3 million visitors. On the other hand, intra-Caribbean travel increased by 7.4 per cent to reach 2.0 million, while the South American market declined by 10.4 per cent to 1.5 million.”
Walters said a few potential hurdles remained on the horizon for the region, however, from “environmental, political and social uncertainty” to the “impact of climate change,” along with challenges like the Coronavirus.
“There are other factors such less-than-adequate intra-regional air access and high levels of taxation which may hinder travel,” Walters said. “However, destinations are making improvements to their infrastructure and there’s renewed investment regionally in tourism facilities for both air and sea travelers.”
Right now, the Caribbean Tourism Organization is still projecting positive growth for the region in 2020, with an estimate of between one and two percent.
“In conclusion, 2019 was a great one overall for Caribbean tourism, based not only on the record performance by the region, but also for some individual destinations,” the CTO said in a statement.