Published On: Thu, Feb 14th, 2013

Dutch Caribbean 2012 Tourism Growth Beats Caribbean Average

WillemstadWILLEMSTAD, Dutch Caribbean Business - Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) reports that the number of people traveling to the Caribbean is bouncing back to pre-recession levels.

Visitors from Canada and the U.S. are giving a boost to a region struggling to recover from a global economic crisis

The Dutch Caribbean islands reported a 5.6 percent increase in visitor arrivals from 2011. Thus beating the Caribbean average thanks to a surge in business from South America. The most popular islands were Curaçao and Aruba.

About 25 million tourists visited the Caribbean last year, a more than 5 percent increase from 2011.It's a growth rate that outpaced the rest of the world, which saw arrivals increase by 4 percent, said Beverly Nicholson-Doty, chairwoman of the Barbados-based CTO.

"All the signs suggest Caribbean tourism is rallying," said Nicholson-Doty. "The region as a whole has regained ground lost in the heat of the global economic depression."

The Caribbean also saw its largest number of stayover visitors in five years, with the region's overall hotel occupancy increasing by more than 7 percent and total room revenues up by nearly 9 percent.

And tourists spent big while visiting the Caribbean last year, dropping more than $27 billion, a more than 3 percent increase from 2011. The numbers mark a return to pre-recession levels, Nicholson-Doty said.

The bulk of tourists visiting the Caribbean come from the U.S., a number that increased by more than 4 percent last year, on par with pre-recession levels five years ago. Canada also remained one of the Caribbean's largest markets, with tourists from that country increasing by nearly 6 percent in 2012.

Meanwhile, the number of visitors from the United Kingdom dropped by 10 percent to 1 million last year, with tourism officials blaming weak European economies and high airfares coupled with a controversial air passenger duty.

Cruise ship tourism was flat across the Caribbean for the last three years. Some islands suffered more than others, with Barbados, Grenada, St. Vincent, Dominica and the British Virgin Islands seeing a double-digit percentage drop in cruise ship passenger arrivals last year.

A slight increase is cruise ship tourism is expected next year after Disney Cruise Lines begins departing from the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan, generating an estimated $5 million in revenue from the four departures scheduled in 2014. Those cruise ships will stop for the first time at the eastern Caribbean island of Grenada, which saw a nearly 22 percent drop in cruise ship passengers in 2012.

Caribbean governments are counting on cruise ship passengers like 40-year-old Jenna Balagus of Winnipeg,Canada, who arrived for the first time in Puerto Rico on Wednesday but hopes to return for an extended stay.

"Puerto Rico has a unique culture," she said as she watched her husband play with their three sons in a shaded public plaza. "I'd like to see more of it."

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