Sta­tis­tics are help­ful but re­quire closer anal­y­sis

Jamaica Gleaner - - HOSPITALITY JAMAICA -

AC­CORD­ING TO Hugh Ri­ley, the sec­re­tary gen­eral and CEO of the Caribbean Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion (CTO), vis­i­tor num­bers, so far in 2016, are ahead of an­nual pro­jec­tions, which had sug­gested that the re­gion will see ar­rivals grow by four to five per cent.

Mr Ri­ley also said in a re­cent mes­sage to mark Caribbean Tourism Month that the num­bers build on vis­i­tor growth of around seven per cent last year – at 28.7m ar­rivals – and a vis­i­tor spend of over US$1 bil­lion more than in 2014, con­tribut­ing ap­prox­i­mately US$30 bil­lion to Caribbean economies.

This is, of course, all very good news for the re­gion as a whole, and a clear demon­stra­tion of the in­dus­try’s long-term re­silience to chal­lenges, and its im­por­tance to re­gional eco­nomic growth.

How­ever, a de­tailed re­view of the coun­try vari­a­tions, us­ing na­tional re­port­ing, sug­gests that be­yond the head­line num­bers, much closer at­ten­tion needs to be paid by the me­dia to is­sues rang­ing from the strength of the economies of feeder mar­kets, prod­uct and mar­ket­ing, pric­ing, ex­change rates, and the amount re­tained by in­di­vid­ual na­tions through taxes and the pro­vi­sion of in­put and ser­vices.

SIG­NIF­I­CANT IN­CREASES

Ac­cord­ing to CTO’s sta­tis­tics in the first six months of this year, when com­pared to the same pe­riod in 2015, four des­ti­na­tions recorded sig­nif­i­cant in­creases in US ar­rivals (Gre­nada up by 26.2 per cent; Belize 25.5 per cent; An­tigua 20.3 per cent and Bar­ba­dos 13.1 per cent) while, for ex­am­ple, Cu­raçao recorded a de­crease. How­ever, in con­trast, many Caribbean des­ti­na­tions strug­gled to achieve growth in the Cana­dian mar­ket with only Cu­raçao (6.7 per cent) and Guyana (4.7 per cent) record­ing sig­nif­i­cant in­creases, while 16 of CTO’s 24 mem­bers re­ported de­creases.

When it comes to cruise ship ar­rivals, big re­gional dif­fer­ences also ap­pear.

Although in the first half of 2016, when com­pared with the same pe­riod in 2015, 13 coun­tries recorded higher first-half cruise ar­rivals, 11 re­ported de­clines. For ex­am­ple, the Do­mini­can Repub­lic (up by 58.4 per cent) and the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands (48.4 per cent) recorded the largest in­creases, in part be­cause of the launch of new cruise ports. But while Trinidad, Gre­nada, Mar­tinique, Aruba and Ja­maica also posted dou­ble-digit cruise ar­rivals in­creases in the first half of this year, other coun­tries showed sig­nif­i­cant de­clines. These in­cluded some pre­vi­ously strong des­ti­na­tions for cruis­ing such as St Lucia and Puerto Rico, which, re­spec­tively, were down by 16.1 per cent and 14.2 per cent.

The mat­ter be­comes more com­pli­cated still when the na­ture of changes in ar­rivals is not clearly dif­fer­en­ti­ated or ex­plained.

For ex­am­ple, in the last few weeks, the Aruba Tourism Au­thor­ity has said that a part of the growth in its tourism sec­tor over the last two years has been ‘fic­ti­tious’. In a re­cent re­port, it said that the surge in its Venezue­lan ar­rivals did not re­flect ac­tual tourism, but those com­ing to col­lect for­eign cur­rency. It also sug­gested that de­spite its pos­i­tive fig­ures, tourism spend­ing was de­clin­ing, pro­ject­ing a four per cent fall in the num­ber of ar­rivals this year, as well as a 2.6 per cent drop in rev­enue per avail­able room (RevPAR).

My sus­pi­cion is that not only will this prob­lem ap­ply to the large num­bers of Venezue­lans now ar­riv­ing tem­po­rar­ily in Trinidad, Cu­raçao, Guyana and other parts of the re­gion, but is also a prob­lem, al­beit for dif­fer­ent rea­sons, when it comes to record­ing Chi­nese visi­tors. Although such num­bers have been in­creas­ing, the prob­a­bil­ity is that given the ab­sence of same­plane air ser­vices from China to any­where in the re­gion other than Cuba, these visi­tors are not tourists, but those who are de­vel­op­ing or work­ing on the huge projects that China is now en­gaged in around the re­gion. There are also other anom­alies, for ex­am­ple with Cuba, which does not in­clude Cuba-born Cuban-Amer­i­cans in its vis­i­tor ar­rivals as it re­gards them still as Cuban ci­ti­zens.

I note this not to be crit­i­cal of CTO’s mes­sag­ing about what is good re­gional news, but to sug­gest that there is a strong case for Caribbean me­dia to ask more thought­ful ques­tions about what they are be­ing of­fered and re­port.

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