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The Caribbean Travel Marketplace 42 (CHTA), held in Jamaica from May 20-23, spanned four days and hosted over 1,200 delegates from more than 45 countries attended, making it the largest of its kind to date. Over 12,750 appointments were scheduled. The Marketplace included several firsts, such as the creation of the first-ever MICE groups exchange, the first multi-destination FAM trip to showcase the region and the celebration of the first Marketplace Responsible Tourism Day.

Held at the Montego Bay Convention Center, the event also included the third annual Caribbean Travel Forum, where CHTA President Nicola Madden-Greig touched on several key points, including most importantly, the spectacular growth experienced by the region post-pandemic.

“When we think about the fact that at the beginning of the pandemic, the Caribbean being the most tourism-dependent region in the world, it was basically said that we would be the last to come out of COVID, we would have the most difficulties and probably would take us to 2025, 2026 before we would recover,” said Madden-Greig. “Well, we proved them wrong, didn’t we?”

According to the numbers, Caribbean tourism continues to be highly desired by international travelers. Expected growth is forecasted to range between 5 percent and 10 percent, potentially welcoming between 33.8 million and 35.4 million tourists this year.

Tourism is Critical to the Caribbean

“Tourism is our main economic driver and it’s important that tourism is felt across the length and breadth, the loops and crannies of every destination. And until we are able to really see the benefits directly, all the way through to society, then we haven’t done our job,” said Madden-Greig, and the report shows the industry is showing significant increases, with islands such as Curaçao, the Dominican Republic, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Martinique, Turks and Caicos, Aruba, Guadeloupe, Jamaica and Puerto Rico showing double-digit growth in performance.

Of note is that in the first half of 2024, bookings in First and Business Class cabins outperformed the market average by a large margin, growing 39 percent compared to the same period in 2023.

The Travel Forum included in-depth discussions on “Visioning a New Tourism Landscape” with input from tourism officials, international and regional travel industry captains, general managers, private and public sector thought leaders, and more.  From L to R on the “Integrated Tourism Develpment Panel”: Nicola Madden-Greig, President, Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association; Adam Stewart, Executive Chairman, Sandals & Beaches Resorts; Hon. Edmund Bartlett, Minister of Tourism, Jamaica; Hon. Kenneth Bryan, Minister of Tourism & Ports, Cayman Islands, and Chair, Caribbean Tourism Organization; and John Bryant Collier (JB), Sustainable Development Program Leader, Caribbean Region, World Bank. (Photo by Carlos Rangel Bracale)

Increased connectivity in the U.S. is growing along with demand, with New York, Dallas, Orlando, Charlotte and Washington D.C. leading the charge. According to ForwardKeys’ report, in the first six months of 2024, 68 percent of all arrivals from the U.S. and Canada are flying directly to their Caribbean destination, an increase of 5 percentage points compared to pre-pandemic levels. During the Forum, Madden-Greig pointed out that the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and The Bahamas remained the leading destinations for Americans, each destination hosting over 1.2 million Americans in 2023.

And where would all these new passengers be staying? The CHTA noted there are 46 new hotel projects in the pipeline, along with nine infrastructure projects such as airport expansions. The hotels represent over 18,000 new rooms, divided among 29 luxury properties, 14 upper-scale, one boutique and two mid-scale accommodations. Jamaica, Turks and Caicos and Saint Lucia lead the way here, with 10 projects each for the first two and seven for the latter.

As for the very important cruise sector, Madden-Greig pointed to the industry’s upward track, with an estimated 34.2 million to 35.8 million cruise visitors expected in the region.

These are big numbers, and it’s important to point out that, as a whole, the Caribbean nations are keeping an eye on preventing over-tourism. “We want to be able to maintain the beauty, the lovely nature that is the Caribbean, doing it in a way that continues to honor the very things that our visitors travel to experience that is the Caribbean,” she said.

In closing, she added a note about the importance of inter-island travel: “We must continue to grow this segment to allow travelers to explore and discover the entire Caribbean.”

During the event, the CHTA also announced a rebranding and a new website that, said Vanessa Ledesma, acting CEO and Director General of CHTA, “embraces the spirit of innovation and evolution, signaling a bold departure from convention while honoring and embracing the rich heritage and culture of the Caribbean.”