Tue | Mar 19, 2019

Brexit, US-China tiff could affect regional tourism

Published:Thursday | February 14, 2019 | 12:23 AM

Despite the Caribbean registering what is being described as an overall robust performance in 2018, with 58.8 million tourist visits, the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) says it is cautiously optimistic about the fate of the region’s tourism this year.

According to the organisation’s director of research and IT, Ryan Skeete, the Caribbean received 29.9 million stopover tourist visits in 2018, the second highest on record, surpassed only by the 30.6 million who visited in 2017. However, according to him, though the industry appears to be on the upswing, there is still some uncertainty about what the remainder of 2019 will bring.

“We must recognise that there are significant headwinds to navigate. These include, but are not limited to, the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, the ongoing trade war between the United States and China, and potential extreme weather events in the destinations and marketplaces,” he explained.

Brexit, which refers to the impending withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, has been causing tensions globally. It is scheduled to wrap up on March 29 although Prime Minister Theresa May is finding it hard to hammer out a separation deal.

Speaking from the CTO headquarters in Barbados on Wednesday morning, the research director said that projections point to tourist arrivals increasing by between six and seven per cent in 2019 as the damaged infrastructure in the 2017 hurricane-impacted destinations returns to capacity.

The researcher said that the cruise sector registered its best performance ever in 2018, with an estimated 28.9 million cruise passenger visits, up by 6.7 per cent, an indication of a rapid recovery from the 2017 hurricanes as after April, there was sustained month-over-month growth as cruise ships returned to the ports and hubs which had been rebuilt.

contributing factors

Skeete said that visitor spending also declined slightly, by approximately one per cent, to US$38.3 billion, although tourists spent slightly more per trip than they did in 2017 and that double-digit increases in spending were registered in Guyana, Belize, the Cayman Islands, The Bahamas, and Grenada.

He noted that the “contributing factors to the excellent performances in the countries not impacted by the hurricanes included sustained targeted marketing, upgraded tourism infrastructure, additional rooms, and enhanced airlift”.

With respect to market trends, Skeete revealed that while the United States remains the Caribbean’s largest market, Canada was the top performer, with 3.9 million visits, resulting in a 5.7 per cent growth, which resulted from a strong economic performance and increased seat capacity from that country.

He said that intraregional travel had its best performance ever, reaching a record two million visits, representing a 5.3 per cent rise, which was followed by South America, with 1.9 million visits, representing a 3.6 per cent increase. He noted, however, that there was only modest growth in European visitors and a drop in the number of American tourists.

“Arrivals from Europe improved modestly by an estimated 1.3%, partially reflecting the fact that more UK tourists were switching to domestic holidays attributed to the continuing Brexit negotiations, the related uncertainties, and a weaker pound. UK arrivals remained flat at an estimated 1.3 million,” he stated.

On the other hand, the 13.9 million American tourist visits last year represented a 6.3 per cent fall. This was due mainly to steep declines in arrivals to popular destinations impacted by the hurricanes, such as Puerto Rico, which was down by 45.6 per cent, and St Maarten, which fell by 79 per cent.

janet.silvera@gleanerjm.com