If we were to stop and reflect on this year as it comes to a close, we would most likely describe 2019 as a varied year, which both highlighted the strengths in Caribbean tourism and its inherent weaknesses.
The sector’s strengths were evident in the significant growth rates experienced by most Caribbean countries. Despite contraction in some larger destinations, such as Cuba and the Dominican Republic, the Caribbean experienced an overall 6.1% level of growth in visitor arrivals during the first nine months of the year. It is noteworthy that the growth rates of those countries affected by the 2017 hurricanes were substantial, in some cases up to triple-digit levels.
This level of recovery speaks volumes about the commitment of the Caribbean to this industry which has become the lifeblood of several countries.
During early September, a portion of the northern Bahamas was ravaged by Hurricane Dorian, a super hurricane which broke many records. The devastation caused was a further wake-up call to us in the region that the climatic changes are here and likely irreversible. It is our responsibility to create resilience in not only the tourism sector, but all sectors of our economies and by extension all sections of our societies. We continue to commiserate with our brothers and sisters in The Bahamas on the loss of life and property experienced as a result of Dorian.
The cruise sector has also had a strong showing in 2019 with a 5.8% growth rate for the first three quarters. Implicit in this growth of cruise visits is the fact that as occurred in 2018, there has been consistent growth of cruise visits in each quarter of 2019, albeit at rates which are lower than those experienced in 2018.
During the last two months of 2019, we at the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) announced that the organization would be going through a process of restructuring. This is currently underway, and it is our intention to emerge from this process with a revised structure which more adequately serves the needs of all our members.
The Caribbean tourism sector is ending 2019 in a position of which all of us can be proud, having seen an overall reversal of the position at the end of 2018. As we look to 2020, we should not rest on our laurels, but continue to work to sustain the growth which was realized this year. 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.
In 2020 we continue with the theme of the ‘Year of Festivals’ as we recognized that it was all but impossible for us to fully embrace the rich culture of the Caribbean in one twelve-month span. This year we hope to move even further along the path of integrating our festivals and other cultural events into the tourism product in all our countries. 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.
What is also becoming clearer to us is that we have not begun to fully and responsibly harness the power of our culture and heritage in defining who we are, and this is critical as we seek to offer authentic experiences which benefit both the visitor and the communities in which these experiences exist.
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 cruse 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. 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.
On behalf of the CTO Council of Ministers and Commissioners of Tourism, Board of Directors and the staff of the CTO, I want to thank you all for standing with us in 2019 and we look forward to your support in 2020. I wish for a year filled with blessings, growth and prosperity for this region we love.