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A JetBlue aeroplane lands at Princess Juliana International Airport near Maho Beach in St Maarten.

Despite growth in regional tourism, more can be done — CTO

A JetBlue aeroplane lands at Princess Juliana International Airport near Maho Beach in St Maarten.

Describing 2019 as a “varied year” for Caribbean tourism, Acting Secretary General of the Caribbean Tourism Organization Neil Walters said that last year revealed the strengths and inherent weaknesses in the region’s industry.

Acting Secretary General — Caribbean Tourism Organization Neil Walters
(Photo: Caribbean News Digital)

In a New Year’s message, Walters noted: “The sector’s strengths were evident in the significant growth rates experienced by most Caribbean countries. Despite [a] contraction in some larger destinations, such as Cuba and the Dominican Republic, the Caribbean experienced an overall 6.1 per cent level of growth in visitor arrivals during the first nine months of the year.”

With the impact of Hurricane Dorian on The Bahamas in September 2019, he explained that the storm “was wake-up call to us in the region that climate changes are here and likely irreversible.

A man walks through the rubble in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian on the Great Abaco island town of Marsh Harbour, Bahamas, September 2, 2019. Picture taken September 2, 2019. (Photo: REUTERS/Dante Carrer)

“It is our responsibility to create resilience not only in the tourism sector, but in all sectors of our economies and by extension all sections of our societies,” Walters stated.

The acting secretary general pointed out, however, that countries which experienced hurricanes in 2017 have recovered significantly to record triple-digit increase rates. This, he said, is due to the Caribbean’s commitment to the tourism industry and recognition that it is the lifeblood of several economies.

Significantly, he also noted that cruise tourism sector, which recorded a 5.8 per cent uptick between January and September 2019, also contributed to the growth in the tourism industry. However, despite registering increases over three consecutive quarters, the Caribbean’s growth rates were lower than in 2018 year-on-year.

The MSC Fantasia berths at the cruise line peir in Port Zante, St Kitts. (Photo: Flickr)

“Given the results recorded so far in 2019, it is our expectation that 2020 will, all things being equal, be another year of growth, likely at a rate slightly lower for both stayover arrivals and cruise visits. 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 stated.

“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 travelling world, thereby pooling our limited resources to become a stronger force for the maintenance and growth of the market share which the Caribbean, the most tourism-dependent region, values,” the CTO acting secretary general added.

A restructured CTO

In 2019 the CTO announced that the organisation would undergo a process of restructuring, which is currently underway. As a result, the CTO intends on reorganising its structure in order to adequately and better serve the needs of its members.

Looking ahead Walters is encouraging stakeholders in the Caribbean stakeholders not to “rest on our laurels, but continue to work to sustain the growth” realised in 2019.  

“At the same time, we must remember that we live in a volatile climatic region which while providing the palate for amazing experiences for our visitors, must always be respected and considered in our planning and development,” he continued.

2020: Looking ahead

In addition, the CTO will continue its focus on the theme ‘Year of Festivals’ in 2020, while seeking to incorporate festivals and other cultural events into the tourism product in each country.

“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,” Walters said.

Barbados-Food-and-Rum-Festival-2019
Barbados Food and Rum Festival 2019

He further encouraged Caribbean countries to “fully and responsibly harness the power of our culture and heritage” in order to curate and deliver “authentic experiences which benefit both the visitor and the communities in which these experiences exist”.