2019 Caribbean Tourism Performance Report

Presented by Neil Walters, Secretary General (Ag)

Sparked by robust recovery in the destinations that were affected by hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, Caribbean tourism rebounded soundly to post record arrivals in terms of both stayover and cruise in 2019.

Stayover arrivals grew by 4.4 per cent to reach 31.5 million. This outpaced the international rate of growth of 3.8% reported by the World Tourism Organization.

Overall, the destinations most impacted by the hurricanes in 2017 saw some of the highest rates of growth. Some examples of this were Sint Maarten which experienced growth of 80 per cent, Anguilla (74.9 per cent), the British Virgin Islands (57.3 per cent), Dominica (51.7 per cent), the US Virgin Islands (38.1 per cent), and Puerto Rico increased (31.2 per cent).

Meanwhile, cruise visits increased by 3.4 per cent to 30.2 million, representing the seventh consecutive year of growth.  

The US was the best performing among the major stayover markets, registering an increase of 10 per cent to reach a record 15.5 million visitors.

However, Canada, one of only two main markets to have sustained growth in each of the last three years, was sluggish in 2019 at 0.4 per cent growth, equivalent to 3.4 million tourist visits.

The European market dipped by 1.4 per cent from 5.9 million in 2018 to 5.8 million. The UK 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. 

According to STR Global, in the hotel sector revenue per available room at year end was US$139.45 representing a growth rate of 2.8 per cent in, while the average daily room rate grew by 5.6 per cent to US$218.82. Room occupancy on the other hand, fell by 2.7 per cent, from 65.5 per cent in 2018 to 63.7 per cent last year.

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. These achievements were made despite several challenges such as global economic and political uncertainty and the impact of climate change leading to extreme weather events in some cases.

As we navigate 2020, concerns remain over the global economic, environmental, political and social uncertainty, including the US presidential election, the impact of climate change and extreme weather events and health threats/issues, especially the coronavirus, and how these could influence our performance.

There are other factors such less-than-adequate intra-regional air access and high levels of taxation which may hinder travel. However, destinations are making improvements to their infrastructure and there’s renewed investment regionally in tourism facilities for both air and sea travellers.

For 2020, tourist arrivals to the 2017-hurricane impacted destinations should further normalization, returning closer to the pre-hurricane levels. Other destinations are expected to show modest growth as the world’s economy is expected to expand by 2.5%, according to the World Bank, while the USA economy (the region’s largest source market) is only expected to grow 1.8 %.

Based on our preliminary estimates, tourist arrival levels to the Caribbean are projected to grow between 1.0% and 2.0% in 2020, with a similar rate of growth expected for the cruise sector.