Caribbean well placed to weather any storms

by Steve Hartridge

New hotels, upgrades to existing properties and increased airlift are reasons for the Caribbean’s tourism industry to be confident in 2019, delegates in Montego Bay for the Caribbean Travel Marketplace were told.

"We are seeing high levels of investments in upgrades of existing hotels over the past three years, and the growth in new room inventory contributes to modest increases in room rates as the region's product continues to expand and improve," said Frank Comito, the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association's (CHTA) Director General.

Comito said a recent survey by CHTA, which represents 33 countries spread over a million square miles of the Caribbean sea, polled a representative sampling of hotels throughout the region - and 85% of those hotels said they were ‘optimistic’ about their prospects, with many expecting to continue healthy sales in 2018.

Increased capital investments are paying dividends for 61% of hotels, while strong revenues are generating new staff hires by 47% of respondents.

Said Comito: "This is a considerable shift from where we were four years ago and we expect the trend to continue this year."

Airlines are continuing to introduce new services, with American Airlines now flying to 30 destinations across the region and Jet Blue serving almost the same number.

However, the residual impacts of the 2017 hurricanes were still affecting several destinations, with St Martin and St Thomas and St John (US Virgin Islands) still only operating at around 50% of their previous capacity. St Maarten though, expects to be back to where it was pre-hurricanes, in terms of hotels, by the end of this year, said a spokesperson for the St Martin Tourist Office.

“The devastation has given us a chance to refresh and upgrade our bed stock ad we are coming back stronger and more desirable than ever,” they said.

The 2017 hurricanes affected the entire region, even though 75% of it ‘did not even feel a single breeze,’ added Comino.

“We are still fighting the perception that an event on one Caribbean nation affects the whole of the Caribbean…our geography is not understood.”

Other external factors that could halt tourism growth this year include changes in the global economy and uncertainty over Brexit, Comito warned.

The importance of tourism to the Caribbean was stressed by Jamaica’s Tourism Minister, Edmund Bartlett, who noted that the industry was worth around $30 billion a year to the region, whose 30 million visitors contribute around 40% of entire GDP, with one in five workers involved in jobs that impact on tourism.

When it comes to countries dependent on tourism revenues as a high percentage of all its annual earnings, Antigua and Barbuda ranks second in the world.

Jamaica where 130,000 people are involved in tourism – that’s one in 11 of all workers – had a ‘phenomenal year in 2018’, said Donovan White, Director of Tourism for the Jamaica Tourist Board. While visitor numbers were up just 1%, revenues from those visitors grew by almost 9%.

The Caribbean Travel Marketplace, which was staged for the 37th time in Jamaica, is the region’s major travel trade event. Delegates from Caribbean countries from Aruba to the US Virgin Islands met with buyers from more than 20 markets.

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