27 NOV 2015: Can the Caribbean get any hotter? The top executive from the region’s tourism development agency, the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), Hugh Riley released the region’s latest tourism statistics at the annual press conference held during this week’s Caribbean Week.

The Caribbean is number one

The CTO reports the Caribbean has outpaced all other major tourism regions in the world with record numbers as it welcomed 14.8 million international passengers in the first six months.

Riley, the Secretary General and CEO, notes 800,000 more visitor arrivals were in the region by June, up 5.8 percent compared to the same period last year.

Canadian arrivals

Over 2 million Canadians have touched down on the sun, sea and sand hotspots.

While Canada continues to be a huge source market, US tourists remain number one. Still as many of the regional currencies are pegged to the US dollar, Riley admitted the cost of travel for Canadians has become a little more expensive but explained despite the exchange rate, some member countries have seen an increase in Canadian travellers, surprisingly from some Caribbean islands that do not have all-inclusive resorts.

Lift

There has been a noticeable increase in lift with a projected 3.8 million seats expected from Canada, mostly in Ontario and Quebec.

The big vision

The CTO pledges to position the Caribbean as the most desirable warm weather destination. “That means outpacing the rest of the world,” Riley expressed, adding while he remains cautious on future forecasts, these higher arrival numbers help add fuel in promoting the Caribbean.

The Top Three and some surprising Caribbean destinations are:

Cuba
Dominican Republic
Jamaica

Then there are some destination surprises for Canadians with arrivals up in smaller hubs like:

Curacao (39.7 percent)
Barbados (28.4 percent)

Cruising

A high demand reveals 13.7 million visits, and among the 22 destinations registered, 13 reported more cruise passengers this year.

“The increase is due to close collaboration with tour operators, enhanced tour itineraries and dozens more luxury cruise liners making the Caribbean their port of call,” Riley said.

Special Events

Blockbuster festivals, many of which occur during the shoulder and off-seasons, help spike traffic.

“There are festivals for just about every theme like chocolate, food, wine and rum, and jazz,” Riley told Travel Industry Today and added these events are magnets used to drive traffic in the slower seasons. As an example, in Antigua and Barbuda next year’s highly anticipated 60th Carnival is scheduled over two weeks in late July and early August.

Cuba

It’s full steam ahead. Expect revamping of existing properties, completion of new resorts and those once derelict buildings are now morphing into exquisite urban hotels.

But as the director of the Cuba Tourist Board points out the importance will be on protecting the rich local heritage as improvements are made to the growing infrastructure.

Cuba boasts 11 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In addition, Havana has been designated as one of the New 7 World Wonder Cities. For natural beauty, 25 percent of Cuba including the surrounding ocean brims in wilderness and has protected areas such as seven national parks and seven biosphere reserves.

Huge ongoing developments are sweetening the all-inclusive offerings - plus watch for the onslaught of posh boutique hotels in major cities especially in Havana.

Along the sun-kissed seashore of the Caribbean’s largest island nation, agents will observe new offerings from locales like Cayo Santa Maria, Cayo Coco and Varadero. Luxury properties are also expected to open soon. Watch for Iberostar Playa Pilar and two hotels from the exclusive Ocean by H10 Hotel chain considered among Spain’s top hotel companies. There’s also the new Warwick Cayo Santa Maria which recently debuted becoming the Warwick brand’s first foray into Cuba.

We asked Eloy Govea, director of the Cuba Tourist Board, about the position of Canadian tourists now that American visitors have started to arrive. “Every year 1.2 million Canadians arrive and that is something we don’t want to lose,” he said, adding that Cuba can’t afford to lose Canadians, which is the country’s number one source market.

Bahamas

The archipelago of islands, a famous backdrop for James Bond thrillers like Casino Royale or Thunderball, has crowd pleasers during Junkanoo in spring, a gonzo big street parade when revellers get the fire ‘in ya belly.’

The Exumas is considered a premier nonstop destination for someone who doesn’t want lots of nightlife, and casinos with stays at such posh properties like the Sandals Emerald Bay all-inclusive. “The Exumas is the only place in the world where you can swim with pigs,” smiles Paul Strachan, director in Canada of the Bahamas Tourist Office, on the unique experience.

Barbados

Ready to take a bite? Agents will notice ongoing new initiatives such as a big revamping of the island’s culinary scene. “We’re sprucing up the culinary sites adding more restaurants and upgrading all over Barbados especially the St. Lawrence Gap,” says Deborah Millington, business development officer in Canada for Visit Barbados.

Two big local chefs creating buzz include John Hazzard (from Bougainvillea Beach Resort fame) and Peter Edey, both specializing in international cuisine.

By the fabled Crane Resort along stunning Long Bay will come the highly anticipated opening of the new Sam Lord’s Castle, a new Wyndham Grand Resort scheduled to open in 2018. The 450-room property meshes the historic castle, once a pirate mainstay, into a palatial setting. In historic Bridgetown, a new Hyatt Hotel is expected.

The Barbados Tourism Authority reports more than 2,900 new rooms to be added to its inventory by 2019.

Turks and Caicos Islands

The island nation Canadians have had a love affair with for decades has also been anointed as “Number 1 Island in the World” by TripAdvisor. Rosemarie Wilson, Canadian rep for the Turks and Caicos Islands, boasts while there are so many beaches along the continual 240-mile coastline, one of the favourites has been the pale sand and azure sea around Grace Bay Beach, the pride of Provo.

 

Caribbean Week
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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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