THE YEAR 2012 has produced a mixed bag for Caribbean tourism, with the region reporting sluggish visitor spending, reduction in UK arrivals, and commendable increases from its largest source markets the United States and Canada.
Secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) Hugh Riley, in his Christmas message, said visitor arrivals to the region continue to rise, fuelled by improvements in the United States of America (USA) and Canadian markets, "Yet, we continued to face challenges in Europe, particularly the UK market from which the numbers have been falling. Visitor spending has also been sluggish".
Riley said the latest figures reveal a five per cent rise in arrivals overall, and with the USA and Canada outperforming all other markets, resulting in a 5.3 per cent growth in both areas.
The UK, he said, on the other hand, has recorded a decline of over six per cent. He noted that the summer Olympics did have some effect, leading to marginal growth in the UK economy, which is still struggling to rebound. Another factor he said the Caribbean could not ignore was the severe impact that the unfair and discriminatory Air Passenger Duty (APD) is having on the region's performance in the British market.
"Much to the disappointment and frustration of the Caribbean, this crippling tax is due to rise even further in April 2013 while the discriminatory aspect of the 'distance banding' system remains."
By April, a family of four visiting the Caribbean and flying in economy will be expected to fork out £332 for APD - and double that amount for a few extra inches of leg room if they fly in any class above economy, stated the secretary general.
On the contrary, that same family would pay less APD to fly to USA destinations that are further away from London than any Caribbean country, he pointed out. Promising that the CTO will continue to fight this tax, Riley said, despite the many challenges in the Caribbean, the region went through 2012 with its resolve unfazed.
Riley said he and his team are energised by the CTO's new vision which is, "To position the Caribbean as the most desirable, year-round, warm-weather destination by 2017".