In 2019, the Caribbean had some ups and downs, according to Caribbean Tourism Organization Acting Secretary General Neil Walters; however, the destination saw far more ups than downs. To note, “despite contraction in some larger destinations, such as Cuba and the Dominican Republic, the Caribbean experienced an overall 6.1 percent level of growth in visitor arrivals during the first nine months of the year,” Walters said in a statement. Even more impressive is that the countries affected by the 2017 hurricanes showed substantial growth, in some cases reaching triple-digit levels.
The cruise sector also had a strong showing: During the first three-quarters of the year, cruising reported a 5.8 percent growth rate. “Implicit in this growth of cruise visits is the fact that, as occurred in 2018, there has been consistent growth of cruise visits in each quarter of 2019, albeit at rates which are lower than those experienced in 2018,” Walters said.
Although Walters adds that 2019 was a year which everyone can be proud of, he said it’s important to not rest on their laurels, and that they must continue to work on the growth realized in 2019. One such way he would like to continue growth is by doubling down on the “Year of Festivals.”
“We recognized that it was all but impossible for us to fully embrace the rich culture of the Caribbean in one 12-month span,” Walters said. “This year, we hope to move even further along the path of integrating our festivals and other cultural events into the tourism product in all our countries. We recognize that not only do these aspects of our individual countries distinguish us from each other, but they also hold significant potential in the quest to attract even more visitors to our shores.”
He continued, “What is also becoming clearer to us is that we have not begun to fully and responsibly harness the power of our culture and heritage in defining who we are, and this is critical as we seek to offer authentic experiences which benefit both the visitor and the communities in which these experiences exist.”
Regarding several of the low points, Walters pointed to Hurricane Dorian, which affected the northern parts of the Bahamas, and how climate changes are “here and likely irreversible.”
“It is our responsibility to create resilience in not only the tourism sector, but all sectors of our economies and by extension all sections of our societies,” Walters said.
In addition, the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) underwent a restructuring in the latter months of 2019, which included the closing of its New York and UK offices, as well as an audit of its Barbados headquarters. “It is our intention to emerge from this process with a revised structure which more adequately serves the needs of all our members,” Walters said.
He also warns of slowed growth in 2020 – although growth, nonetheless. “One way that we can arrest the reduction in growth – or even maintain growth at current levels – is to embrace the value of speaking with one voice, 'One Caribbean,' to the rest of the world,” Walters said. “To this end, it is our expectation that one of the outcomes of the restructuring of the CTO will be a new way of speaking with one voice to the rest of the traveling world, thereby pooling our limited resources to become a stronger force for the maintenance and growth of the market share which the Caribbean.”