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UK leads plunging European tourist arrivals

Published:Wednesday | February 10, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer


European business to the Caribbean took a nosedive in 2009, as the region experienced double-digit declines from the United Kingdom (UK), say reports from the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO).

The revelation comes 100 days after the increase in the air passenger duty (APD), a 'green tax' by the British which, coupled with the troughs of the global recession, may have precipitated the fall-off in UK visitors to the Eastern Caribbean, comprising the destinations of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Giving an overview of the state of the industry at a CTO news conference in Barbados on Monday, CTO's Director of Research and Information Technology, Winfield Griffith, said although the Caribbean experienced a 3.6 per cent decline in tourist arrivals for 2009, the region was poised to see a rebound in 2010.

According to Griffith, a further redeeming feature was that tourism activity remained significantly high, recording 22.1 million visitors in 2009, down from 22.9 million in 2008. The CTO official said there were projections of a two to three per cent improvement in arrivals this year.

"The outlook is promising, despite threats of some negative fallout from increases in the APD, which will impact disproportionately on some sections of the region," said Griffith.

Already, research has revealed that when airfares are raised progressively, there is a sharp negative pullback after breaching the £500 mark in the UK market.

"Those UK visitors not interested in travel at these increased fares quickly moved from five per cent to 20 per cent, as the fare moved from £500-£800 marking an average decline in visitation of 14.8 per cent over the range," said Griffith.

Canadians to the rescue

With the double-digit decline out of the UK, the region's saving grace was the Canadians, the most robust source market, pumping a positive 8.6 per cent into the 2009 figures, in comparison to the largest supplier, the United States, down 4.4 per cent.

But while land-based business was down, cruise shipping made headway, reports the CTO official.

"Cruise visitor arrivals to the region, as a whole, increased 1.4 per cent after the three per cent decline in the previous year. This increase was associated with the aggressive marketing drive of the cruise lines, along with price specials," said the director of research.

He noted that consistent with the fall-off in arrivals was a weakening in hotels' performance across the region. Occupancy went down 4.1 per cent, averaging 61.6 per cent for the year, while average daily room rates fell 13.5 per cent below 2008's.

Revenue per available room also fell by 17.1 per cent, reflecting the smaller arrival numbers and the discounting necessary to attract a sustainable level of business.

Visitor spend was not spared, resulting in a fall in average spending which, coupled with fewer arrivals, has manifested itself in lower foreign-exchange earnings in the region, said the CTO official.