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Despite Storms Affecting 30 Percent of the Region, Caribbean Gains 800,000 Visitors Over 2016

SAN JUAN — For the first six months of 2017, data compiled shows that the region welcomed 16.6 million international tourists or 800,000 more than 2016.

The Caribbean welcomed nearly a million more tourists than the same period last year for the first half of 2017, according to a regional tourism official, at the United Nations World Tourism Organization Global Conference on Jobs & Inclusive Growth: Partnerships for Sustainable Tourism in Montego Bay, Jamaica.

“For the first six months of 2017, data compiled by the Caribbean Tourism Organization show that the region welcomed 16.6 million international tourists or 800,000 more than in the first six months of 2016, constituting a growth rate of 5.2 percent,” Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett said at the forum.

Bartlett added the number will increase since the region was tracking for an uptick in arrivals by next week.

“So far, Jamaica’s tourism performance for 2017 has been no less impressive than that of the wider region. We are already on track to surpass last year’s historic growth rate of four percent or 3.84 million visitors in total. We welcomed over 3.3 million visitors in the first nine months of 2017 and we expect total arrivals to surpass four million by the first week of December,” Bartlett said.

Bartlett also lauded the performance of the regional tourism sector, in spite of suffering devastating infrastructural destruction and loss of lives from hurricanes Irma and Maria, citing its resilience and determination to push through in adversity.

“Despite the multi-faceted challenges confronting the region, Caribbean tourism continues to grow at record pace. The tourism sector in the region was able to overcome early projections of downturn in global tourism receipts for 2016 — amid volatility and uncertainty in main source markets such as the USA and parts of Europe owing to Brexit, the US presidential elections, and terror attacks in Brussels and in other European cities — to grow at an unprecedented rate of 4.2 percent in 2016,” the minister explained.

Thirteen of the most tourism-dependent countries – St. Martin, Anguilla, Dominica, Barbuda, St. Barts, the British Virgin Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Turks & Caicos, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico – were all affected by the storms. Tourism is the largest industry in 16 of the 28 countries in the Caribbean.

The Jamaican tourism minister is scheduled to play host to over 1,300 delegates from more than 60 nations, who are registered to attend the three-day forum in the country’s second city. Representatives from the World Travel & Tourism Council, Inter-American Development Bank, World Bank Group and the Caribbean Tourism Organisation are also expected to be at the event.

The forum will be the largest of its kind to take place in the Caribbean.

“At the end of this conference, I am very optimistic that we will be able to craft a global agenda that seeks to design collaborative approaches to mitigate shared tourism risks and strengthen resilience as well as build consensus around the strategies necessary to further position global tourism as a catalyst for promoting inclusive economic growth, sustainable livelihoods, environmental sustainability, and social development,” Bartlett said.

World Tourism Organization is the United Nations (UNWTO) Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai, is expected to be in attendance. The event falls within the portfolio of the UNWTO-sponsored International Year of Sustainable Tourism.

“It is a tremendous honor and privileged to open this event; the first of its kind in the Caribbean and, indeed, in the world… I note that a conference of this nature and magnitude is very fitting and is indeed a timely response to some of the emergent issues that are posing a serious threat to the sustainability of the tourism product in the Caribbean and other tourism-dependent regions across the world,” Bartlett shared.

Delegates, over the three days, will focus their energies on growing the collective Caribbean as a tourism destination and coming up with ways to create innovative jobs in the sector.

The Caribbean is a vast area of more than a million square miles. It includes countries in Central America, such as Mexico, Belize and Honduras, that are top cruise destinations and were untouched by Irma or Maria. In the Eastern Caribbean, some places were largely spared, too, including Jamaica, the Bahamas and Cuba. The Southern Caribbean, home to Curacao, Aruba, Barbados was largely unaffected by this year’s storms.

A single cruise season generates $2.4 billion for the Caribbean, 55,000 jobs and $842 million in wages — and that’s in only 21 of all Caribbean ports, according to a 2015 study , said Michele Paige, president of the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association. A single cruise call generates about half a million dollars in economic impact.

“Tourism is critical to the success of the Caribbean and it is essential we are able to exploit the advantages we have here in the region,” Bartlett urged.

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John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy has been reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands since 1989. He is originally from Detroit, Michigan.

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