ST. GEORGE’S, Grenada, Oct 10, CMC – A number of Caribbean countries remain optimistic about their tourism product despite the infrastructural challenges posed by the recent passage of three hurricanes.
On the eve of the opening of the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s State of the Industry Conference (SOTIC) here, at least five of the countries making presentations to the regional and international media – The Bahamas, Anguilla, The British Virgin Islands, St. Maarten and St. Martin – were seriously affected by Hurricanes Irma, Jose and Maria that swept through the Lesser Antilles last month, killing scores of people and leaving damage estimated at billions of dollars..
Head of the St. Maarten’s Tourist Bureau, Ronaldo Brison, said that the sector lost 70 per cent of its hotel stock when the Category 5 Hurricane Irma hit the island it shares with St. Martin.
The Princess Juliana airport which was severely damaged is scheduled to re-open on Tuesday and Brison said its services will be very limited in the initial stages.
“The airport is going to be functioning in a much more limited capacity; it’s not going to be in full air-conditioned business.
“We are going to have a certain section which we know as the D-gates…that is going to be available to passengers; but we are also going to erects tents to facilitate the flow of passengers,” he added.
The Bahamas which had the misfortune of being hit by Hurricanes Irma, Jose and Maria – within weeks of each other – said it has had a dampened season so far.
Director General at the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, Joy Jibrilu, said stop over arrivals were down by 6.7 per cent, while cruise arrivals were up by 4.5 per cent.
However she said that though the hurricanes have once again exposed the vulnerabilities of the islands, the reasons for the reduced tourism numbers were more to do with reduced room stock than with the passage of the recent hurricanes.
”We’ve had a soft 2017 in terms of airlift the first quarter and we can attribute it to a number of things. Grand Bahama continues to lower our numbers across the spectrum…Grand Bahama is down by 48% year on year so when you add that statistic to your overall, the numbers are a lot lower.”
Jibrilu said the two main hotels in Grand Bahama – Memories Hotel and Grand Lucayan – are still closed after being devastated by Hurricane Matthew in 2016, “and they account for 60 per cent of hotel inventory in Grand Bahama.”
But despite the negative impact the recent severe weather has had on parts of the northern Caribbean, the southern Caribbean seems set for a bumper season. Host country Grenada is projecting an almost 30 per cent increase in cruise arrivals.
Chief Executive Officer at the Grenada Tourism Authority, Patricia Maher, said the change in the cruise ship itinerary had become necessary because of the devastation at some of the northern ports of call. As a result Grenada will receive 28 new ships calls this season.
“Our cruise season is showing growth for the coming winter season. We had already projected growth of 27 per cent over the last cruise season…so we’re already looking good.
“But as you can imagine as a result of the itinerary changes now to the destination, to the region, we are actually going to see an increase of passengers to Grenada this season.”
Maher said the change in the itinerary has also forced the organizers of the Royal Oceans Racing Club’s transatlantic race to change their completion venue from Virgin Gorda to Grenada. The race will start at the Marina Lanzarote in the Canarie Islands on November 25th and the first yacht is expected to arrive in Grenada by mid-December.
Grenada is also expecting an increase in stay over visitors as it is preparing to increase its room stock by 26 per cent from 1,500 hotel rooms to 1,890.
The Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc., Billy Griffith, said Barbados’ 2017 tourism season has been strong so far adding that “the island is reporting growth in both arrival numbers and visitor expenditure.
“Arrivals to Barbados between January and August 2017 stood at 453,645, up 7.4 per cent over the same period in 2016, with the U.S. and Canada recording the highest growth at 16.4 and 12.1 per cent respectively.”
Griffith also disclosed that “cruise arrivals grew by 20.3 per cent between January and August, compared to the same period in 2016, from a total of 323 cruise calls.”
Griffith said an exit survey conducted by the Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization showed that visitor expenditure between January and June stood at US$587.7 million, up 5.3 per cent compared to US$556.6 million for the same period in 2016.
This will be the third consecutive year that Barbados has seen increase in stay-over visitor arrivals and Griffith said the reasons for the increase lie in the growth in room stock and airlift.
“Investors are confident that Barbados is an island that can grow and they can make money doing hotel tourism projects. So it’s really growth of rooms and its growth of the air capacity; and one follows the other and we see no turn around in the immediate future in that trend,” he added.