Caribbean Tourism on the Rise, But Cuba Struggles to Keep Pace

cuban tourism in crisis

The Caribbean is making a strong comeback in the tourism sector, with robust growth expected in the last quarter of the year, according to a recent analysis by ForwardKeys. While popular destinations like the Dominican Republic, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Curaçao are experiencing notable increases in international visitors, Cuba finds itself lagging behind its Caribbean neighbors.

Strong Resurgence in Tourism Numbers

Based on ForwardKeys’ recent analysis of airline ticket sales, destinations like the Dominican Republic are expected to see a whopping 54% increase in international tourist arrivals. The U.S. Virgin Islands and Curaçao aren’t far behind, with expected growth rates of 39% and 31%, respectively. Compared to the same period in 2019, the total number of tourist arrivals to the Caribbean is projected to increase by 15%.

Couples continue to be the most significant segment of tourists in the region, making up 43% of all travelers. However, group travel, involving more than 10 people, is making a significant recovery, registering a 39% rise compared to 2019 statistics.

Key Drivers of Recovery

Juan A. Gómez, Head of Market Intelligence at ForwardKeys, highlights that the recovery in group travel is particularly prominent in destinations like the Dominican Republic, which has seen a 100% increase. This is followed by Sint Maarten and Aruba, both enjoying hikes of 41% and 39% in group travel, respectively. The resurgence is attributed mainly to travelers from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

While Europe continues to be an essential market, the recovery in Caribbean tourism is heavily dependent on the United States and Canada. According to ForwardKeys’ most recent air ticket sales data, Canada is the fastest-growing source market for premium cabin travelers.

Successful Strategies in the Region

The Dominican Republic stands out for its excellent air connectivity, both within and outside the region. This has played a significant role in its solid performance. Experts suggest that other countries like Jamaica and the Bahamas could significantly enhance their tourist numbers by improving long-distance air connectivity with European markets.

Wealthy Canadian travelers are not only increasing in number but are also opting for extended stays of over 14 nights in the Caribbean. The U.S. Virgin Islands, Martinique, and Jamaica have seen the most considerable growth in such long stays, with 25%, 24%, and 15% increases, respectively.

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Emerging Markets

Latin America represents 13% of all bookings in the Caribbean but is a rapidly growing market, with bookings at a remarkable 65% above 2019 levels. Gómez notes that several Latin American countries, including Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, and Peru, are significantly expanding their flight capacity to Caribbean destinations.

European source markets are losing their share in Caribbean tourism due to cuts in flight capacity and resultant fare hikes, as well as the strong presence of the U.S. market. However, new opportunities are emerging with increased air connections from Latin America.

While most Caribbean islands are enjoying a tourism boost thanks to strong air connectivity and emerging markets, Cuba remains an outlier. The country needs to address several factors, including better air connectivity and targeted marketing, to catch up with its thriving neighbors.

With travelers from across the globe flocking to the sun-soaked Caribbean, islands with superior air connections are poised for a tourism windfall, leaving countries like Cuba to ponder their next strategic move.

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