News from SOTIC 2016

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Carlisle Bay Antigua in Antigua & Barbuda. (Photo credit: Ed Wetschler)
Carlisle Bay Antigua in Antigua & Barbuda. (Photo credit: Ed Wetschler)

Caribbean tourism could have had a terrible year, what with fears of the Zika virus combined with a freakishly warm winter in the northeast United States and southeast Canada. Not to mention the devaluation of the Canadian currency. So here at SOTIC 2016, the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s annual State of the Travel Industry Conference in Barbados, I studied the numbers, and they reveal a few eyebrow-raising surprises:

  • Despite the above mentioned obstacles, 20 of 27 CTO members report increased tourist arrivals.
  • The numbers for St. Vincent and the Grenadines, in particular, caught my eye: an 8.2 percent increase for January through July 2016 over that period in 2015. Mind you, the long-awaited airport hasn’t even opened yet. Another standout: Antigua and Barbuda, which reports 99 percent growth.
  • High season (January-March) arrivals were up 13.5 percent in Cuba. Okay, you knew that, and you also knew that Turks and Caicos is doing well— but how well? Up 18.5 percent. And that includes a lot of upmarket travelers with high credit card limits.
  • Of the two destinations whose figures cover January through April, St. Maarten recorded an increase of 9.6 percent, while Haiti recorded a 14.5 percent decline. (It’ll be interesting to see what happens now, with that new and much-praised Marriott in Port-au-Prince.)
  • 22 CTO members report arrivals down by nationality, and of that group, 16 recorded increases from the United States. Growth from that market has been particularly strong in Antigua & Barbuda (a 20.3 percent increase in visitor arrivals), Grenada (26.2 percent!), St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Turks and Caicos, and—of course—Cuba. P.S. Although I don’t cover Central America, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that CTO member Belize has also been growing like gangbusters.
  • Canadian arrivals: Eight destinations reported increases from Canada despite the devalued Canadian dollar. Standouts include the Dominican Republic, Curacao (a healthy 6.7 percent), St. Maarten (11.9 percent), and Turks and Caicos (24.9 percent!).

All in all, much better than you might have expected, given the challenges of weather, health fears, and currency devaluation. No doubt retail travel agents had a little something to do with that. For more information, visit onecaribbean.org.