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From left to right, media consultant Bevan Springer, Kenneth Bryan, CTO chairman and minister of tourism and transport for the Cayman Islands and Neil Walters, acting secretary general for the CTO.

“Today, we can confirm that in 2022, the second full year of the global pandemic, the Caribbean tourism industry was resilient and built on the rebound that was noticeable from the middle of 2021,” said Neil Walters, acting secretary general for the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), during a press conference on Tuesday focused on the region’s performance and its outlook for 2023. 

The outlook for 2023 is rosy, despite global issues, including high inflation, the war in Ukraine, the resultant energy crisis, and the impending economic recession. 

“Nearly 90 percent of the region’s travel demand for 2019 has already been recovered and some destinations have even surpassed their pre-pandemic levels,” said Walters. “When compared to 2022, it is expected that overall arrivals to the region will increase by between 10.0% and 15.0%. This means that between 31.2 and 32.6 million tourists can be expected to visit the region this year. Thus, tourist arrivals this year, might surpass pre-pandemic arrivals.”

“[I]t is clearly apparent that even in the face of the devastating blows delivered by the pandemic as a region, we have responded with hope strength and determination to prevail,” said Kenneth Bryan, CTO chairman and minister of tourism and transport for the Cayman Islands.

Of the 27 destinations comprising the CTO, all showed an increase in stay-over visitors compared to 2021 of between 8.3% and 16-fold, with the exception of Haiti—due to its well-documented crisis—and the U.S. Virgin Islands, where arrival levels are normalizing. 

“In addition,” said Walters, “14 destinations saw an increase in arrivals in one or more months in 2022 when compared to the same time in 2019.” Six of these—U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Maarten, the Turks and Caicos, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Curaçao—surpassed their total pre-pandemic arrival numbers. A third of the remaining destinations have recovered at least 80 percent of their pre-pandemic arrivals. Visitor expenditure in the region has also significantly increased.

“[A]lthough we have not yet surpassed 2019’s numbers across the board in every jurisdiction, the needle is certainly moving in the right direction,” added Bryan.

The U.S. Driving the Caribbean Rebound

Driving the rebound was the U.S., with a pent-up demand fueled by its economic recovery and aided by its proximity to the region and favorable positioning. “Despite all the headwinds throughout the year, the U.S. economy returned to its pre-pandemic trajectory and residents took more outbound trips,” said Walters, with an estimated 28.1% increase in visitors coming from the U.S. market in 2022.

By the end of 2022, 14.6 million American tourists had visited the region, 3.2 million more than the 11.4 million in 2021—marking the highest level of recovery of all of the main markets for the Caribbean. Overall, there were 28.3 million registered tourist visits in 2022—88.6% of the visitors who arrived in 2019, which served as the baseline year for typical tourism activity before the pandemic—making the Caribbean one of the regions with the quickest recovery rates globally in 2022. 

Hotels and Cruise Comebacks

Citing a report from STR, Walters commented that in 2022, the Caribbean area had improvements in all significant performance indicators for the hotel sector, with hotel occupancy increasing to 60.7 percent in 2022 versus 44.4 percent in 2021. 

The cruise sector has rebounded as well. The region’s total number of cruise visitors reached 19.2 million in 2022—five times more than in 2021 and 63.3% of the record number of cruise visits (30.4 million) set in 2019. According to Walters, this year, they expect 32.0 million and 33.0 million cruise visits overall, a 5 to 10 percent increase over the pre-Covid baseline figure. All regional ports are open, and some have even begun home-porting.

Connectivity Challenges 

Global air passenger traffic also recovered in 2022, with demand increasing 152.7 percent during 2022. However, Bryan said, the major airlines still fly 35 percent fewer routes to the region than in 2019. Inter-island connectivity is also still a challenge. 

Bryan added that the CDB (Caribbean Development Bank) was appointed to review the best ways to bring the industry together and what kind of initiatives can the Caribbean islands offer companies to start flying again, particularly bringing back LIAT (the regional airline). 

“We have to incentivize [the carriers] and give options available for them to make [coming to the Caribbean] a little bit less expensive,” he said, “and that means that all the Caribbean islands may have to take a look at their own airport tax structure. If you offer a tax reduction, […] that’s no different than a revenue guarantee.” To achieve this, Bryan said CTO is bringing member destinations into the conversation to discuss what they are willing to do to “put some skin in this game” and get connectivity back.

Caribbean Week in New York Returns 

Earlier this week, the CTO announced it plans to resume the “Caribbean Week in New York” event this year, set for June 5-8. “New York week was closed down for many years,” said Bryan, “and I’m excited to be the chairman who is initiating it to come back. So all the member states can go to the beautiful city of New York where there is a lot of exposure from a marketing perspective for our Caribbean region.”

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