SAN JUAN — There was good news to share all around last week as Caribbean specialists gathered in person here for the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association’s annual Marketplace.
Heard again and again in speeches, in destination press conferences and in informal conversations was the phrase, “We’re almost back to 2019.”
That was a record year for the Caribbean in terms of stayover visitor numbers (31.5 million) and cruise arrivals (30.2 million), and it’s the barometer against which the region is measuring 2022.
Covid obviously washed out arrivals from March 2020, and 2021 saw big rebounds as destinations eased entry requirements. But it’s this year’s numbers that are in the spotlight and will tell the story of rebound and rejuvenation.
“The future remains bright,” said Nicola Madden-Greig, the CHTA’s president, at the opening ceremony held in San Juan’s Distrito-T Mobile entertainment complex.
This year, she said, “has the potential to blow past 2019 if the last quarter continues to build on the momentum from January through August.”
The leisure market has rebounded the fastest, according to Madden-Greig. Business and group travel has lagged behind, but destination weddings are a large source of bookings for 2023, she said.
The CHTA will add an online Caribbean Travel Advisor Expert program in 2023, “which will help inform advisors on how to sell the whole region as well as individual destinations,” according to Madden-Greig.
“The region is in for a good Christmas season,” said Olivier Ponti of ForwardKeys, a company that tracks industry trends and data. “The pace of holiday bookings mirrors that of 2019.”
He said that air connectivity is the key to growth, citing the Dominican Republic with daily connections from 38 global gateways. “The destinations that have better connections and flights are the ones getting the most business.”
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Donovan White, Jamaica’s director of tourism, reported 3.5 million stopover arrivals through July 2022 since the country reopened in June 2020. He projected a full return to 2019 pre-Covid visitor numbers (4.3 million) by 2023.
Approximately 8,000 rooms are slated for construction over the next two to five years, according to White.
“We were 18 months without a cruise ship during Covid,” said Joseph Boschulte, U.S. Virgin Islands commissioner of tourism. “What that did was to bring stayover visitors in droves, which meant our local communities benefitted.”
Findings reveal that these visitors stayed up to 10 days, booked 60 to 90 days out and often traveled in groups of three or more.
“Demand for Caribbean holidays in the summer and fall of this year has exceeded record levels in 2019,” Boschulte said.
Colin James, CEO of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority, summed up the past two years of Covid by saying, “After a difficult period, the tourism industry is seeing a pent-up demand for travel. Antigua and Barbuda has seen unprecedented numbers in air arrivals for the past three months, surpassing the same period in 2018.
“We must continue to engage with new stakeholders, forge new business deals and promote everything the destination offers to businesses and visitors.”
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