Caribbean Sees Tourism Gains as Recovery Takes Hold

The Caribbean was among the fastest-recovering regions for tourism levels, including for the cruise industry, with more ships than ever visiting destinations.

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The Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) issued a 2023 New Year’s Message, pledging to create new ways to keep the Caribbean in the top 5 fastest-growing tourism regions. As it works to return to pre-pandemic levels, the group said that recovery is evident in both land-based and cruise tourism.

Some Destinations Rebounding Faster

The CTO, in a New Year’s Message issued January 9, said the Caribbean in 2022 was one of the fastest-recovering tourism regions in the world, with some destinations recording more arrivals than in 2019 and others still working to reach their pre-pandemic numbers. All destinations, however, are expected to reach or exceed 2019 levels this year.

Neil Walters, CTO’s acting Secretary General, said, “The year 2022 and especially the second half of the year has been a very encouraging one for Caribbean tourism. While we are still seeing elements of the effect of the pandemic on international travel, here in the Caribbean, we have noted a much more consistent pattern of travel which is a good indicator of a return to normalcy and a path to 2019 levels.”

Islands See Increases in Cruise Arrivals

Several Caribbean destinations expect to make significant strides in cruise arrivals this year. The US Virgin Islands reported it is predicting a big increase in cruise arrivals in 2023, with some 450 cruise ship calls, representing about 1.4 million potential cruise visitors, versus less than 250 calls in 2022.

Antigua Cruise Port
Photo Credit: Gerwin Schadl / Shutterstock

Antigua expects record numbers of cruise passengers arriving in 2023. P&O Cruises’ new ship Arvia, an Excel-class vessel carrying 5,200 guests, is home-ported on the island this winter.

Cozumel closed out 2022 with more than 3 million tourists who arrived on 1,200 cruises that called at the Mexican island this year. The arrivals number reflects a 340% jump above its record in 2021, according to the Quintana Roo Comprehensive Port Administration.

Key Ports Will Deliver More Cruisers

Key cruise ports that serve as gateways to the Eastern and Western Caribbean also made significant gains in 2022 and are in line to deliver thousands more cruise guests as 2023 unfolds.

The Port of Galveston, Texas, which is the fourth-largest cruise port in the United States, is poised for significant future growth as it solidifies its position as a crucial gateway for Western Caribbean cruises. The port opened a Royal Caribbean International cruise terminal, and is in talks with MSC Cruises for a dedicated cruise terminal.

Royal Caribbean Galveston Terminal

Port Canaveral, Florida, a major embarkation point for Eastern and Southern Caribbean, and Bahamas cruises, has two mega-ships, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Prima and Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas, home-porting for the winter 2023 season. While other ships are home-ported at the Florida Space Coast port, those two ships alone account for a combined 6,000 cruise passengers per sailing.

Port Canaveral also has the distinction of being named Best US Cruise Homeport in the Cruise Hive 2023 Annual Ship Awards.

Changes Coming to CTO?

The CTO noted that while the Caribbean people and the region’s cultural and natural resources are critical to the success of tourism across the various island nations.

Commenting in the CTO’s message, Kenneth Bryan, Chairman of the CTO Council of Ministers and Commissioners of Tourism and Minister of Tourism and Transport for the Cayman Islands, suggested there might be changes coming to the CTO.

Said Bryan: “The CTO is the region’s tourism development agency and in recognizing this, the CTO Council of Ministers and Commissioners of Tourism has started a process to reshape the organization and reposition it to be more relevant in the post-pandemic era. In this way, the CTO can best lead the region in developing tourism into a more resilient and robust sector, confirming its significant contribution to positive regional economic growth.”

Other challenges that must be addressed include “foreign direct investment, market growth, and sustainable funding” to ensure a sustained recovery. The CTO also indicated that its continued leadership is key to the development of regional tourism.

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