Caribbean Cruise Sector Sees Massive Increase in Passengers

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The Caribbean Tourism Organization reported a 14.3% increase in international visitors in 2023, driven by robust demand from the United States and a record-breaking increase in cruise tourism.

Surge in Caribbean Cruise Tourism

On March 15, 2024, the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) delivered heartening news for the region’s economic outlook. According to the CTO, the Caribbean saw a 14.3% increase in international stay-over arrivals in 2023, with cruise tourism playing a pivotal role in this resurgence.

The cruise sector, in particular, witnessed a 56.8% increase, bringing an estimated 31.1 million cruise passengers to the Caribbean and making it a crucial component of the region’s tourism economy.

Dona Regis-Prosper, the secretary-general of the CTO, in her address from Bridgetown, Barbados, highlighted that the 2023 tourism performance aligned with the organization’s forecasts and signifies a milestone in the post-pandemic resurgence of the tourism sector.

Regis-Prosper attributed the success to several key factors, including a sustained demand for outbound travel from the United States, the Caribbean’s largest market. Furthermore, enhancements in tourism-related infrastructure and strategic marketing initiatives have been instrumental in driving growth.

Additionally, increased airlift capacity played a crucial role, despite its uneven distribution across different destinations.

“Based on preliminary data provided so far by the destinations in the Caribbean, tourist visits were approximately 32.2 million – about four million more than in 2022. This establishes a continuous growth trend over the past 33 months,” said Regis-Prosper.

Echoing this optimism, Kenneth Bryan, the Cayman Islands’ minister of tourism and ports and the chairman of the CTO’s Council of Ministers and Commissioners of Tourism, emphasized the bright future ahead.

“The Caribbean’s prospects appear highly promising, with more regional destinations poised to either match or surpass the arrival figures recorded in 2019,” Bryan said.

Icon of the Seas Docked in US Virgin Islands
Icon of the Seas Docked in US Virgin Islands (Photo Credit: Virgin Islands Port Authority)

He projected that the area if on track to receive 33.8 million and 35.4 million stayover tourists in 2024. Mirroring this positive trend, cruise tourism’s projections for 2024 are particularly buoyant. Projections indicate cruise sector visits could rise by 10% to 15%, potentially reaching between 34.2 million and 35.8 million passengers.

This optimism is further bolstered by the world’s largest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas, sailing into the Caribbean in 2024 with up to 5,610 passengers during its visits.

The Path to Recovery and Beyond

As the Caribbean tourism sector embraced significant growth, 11 destinations outperformed their pre-pandemic days. Anguilla, Aruba, Curacao, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Puerto RicoSt. Maarten, Turks & Caicos, and the U.S. Virgin Islands achieved a recovery exceeding 50% of their 2019 arrival figures. 

Cruises to those destinations contributed massively to the recovery. Turks & Caicos, in particular, saw an increase in cruise passengers of 30% over 2022 arrivals, while the U.S. Virgin Islands saw a nearly double increase.

Cruise lines, such as Carnival Cruise Line, brought passengers by the thousands, including two ships arriving on the same day to deliver over 11,000 visitors to Curacao. In Jamaica, 300,000 cruise passengers arrived within just the first two months of 2023. Several of these destinations also set new annual records for tourist visits in 2024.

Carnival Venezia Docked in Curacao
Carnival Venezia Docked in Curacao (Photo Credit: Curaçao Ports Authority)

The 2023 tourism upswing in the Caribbean is underscored by significant growth across various markets and sectors. The U.S. market, in particular, has fully bounced back, with an estimated 16.3 million stay-over arrivals marking a 12.7% annual growth and setting a new record for visits from the region.

Canada’s tourism market also showed impressive recovery, with 3 million visits reflecting a 46.1% increase compared to 2022. This growth is largely due to the enhanced air service, making the Caribbean more accessible to Canadian travelers. 

Read Also: Caribbean Port Welcomes Nearly 26,000 Cruisers In One Day

European and Caribbean markets, however, had mixed outcomes. While Europe’s arrival numbers remained stable, intra-Caribbean travel saw a 3.6% increase, indicating a slow but steady recovery path. The South American market, meanwhile, experienced a 14% increase.

The hotel sector in the Caribbean also witnessed a noticeable rebound, with average room occupancy climbing to 65.6% in 2023 from 61% in 2022. This recovery was further bolstered by a 11.8% increase in the average rate, demonstrating the sector’s strong financial performance amidst recovery.

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