The Star (St. Lucia) - - REGIONAL - By Hugh Ri­ley

As the Car­ib­bean tourism sec­tor pre­pares to wel­come the New Year, we look for­ward to 2019 with a sense of op­ti­mism, ex­cite­ment and much hope. We are op­ti­mistic be­cause we are see­ing signs that the lows which Mother Na­ture im­posed upon us dur­ing the lat­ter part of 2017 into 2018 are be­ing re­versed. We are ex­cited about our prospects be­cause of the in­cred­i­ble turn­around that we are see­ing in the most im­pacted des­ti­na­tions. And we are hope­ful that the progress of our mem­ber coun­tries and sup­port­ers can con­tinue un­abated, to main­tain the mo­men­tum they de­vel­oped since the storms of 2017 when ev­ery­one rolled up their sleeves and got down to work to build an im­proved and more sus­tain­able prod­uct.

We are pleased to re­port that tourism ac­com­mo­da­tions are be­ing re­built and re­opened, air­ports are re­ceiv­ing their full sched­ule of flights with the re­turn of air­lines in full force and the di­verse prod­uct of­fer­ings within our des­ti­na­tions are be­ing re­stored.

At the same time, in­creases in the num­ber of avail­able seats, pos­i­tive mes­sag­ing and pro­mo­tions in the mar­ket­place have en­abled the un­af­fected des­ti­na­tions to reg­is­ter con­tin­u­ous growth. The de­mand among in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors is strong and Car­ib­bean na­tion­als have con­tin­ued their quest to ex­plore and en­joy the plea­sures of their neigh­bour­ing des­ti­na­tions.

Re­gard­ing the cruise sec­tor, most ports have been re­paired and cruise calls have al­ready re­turned to nor­mal lev­els. In­deed, re­gional cruise vis­its grew in each month since May, with the re­gion reg­is­ter­ing growth of 13.7 per cent dur­ing the May to Septem­ber pe­riod and 17.1 per cent in the third quar­ter of 2018.

In Oc­to­ber, the re­gion launched a dig­i­tal aware­ness cam­paign, ‘The Rhythm Never Stops’, on so­cial me­dia plat­forms such as YouTube and Face­book, co­in­cid­ing with aug­mented air­lift for the 2018/19 tourist win­ter sea­son. Travel pro­fes­sion­als and their clients re­ceived the mes­sage that the Car­ib­bean is a re­silient re­gion with an un­stop­pable re­solve to suc­ceed and to keep on mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion.

For 2019, the out­look is bright for our des­ti­na­tions. We’re quite ex­cited about declar­ing 2019 as the “Year of Fes­ti­vals” in the Car­ib­bean. Sim­ply stated, there’s a rhythm to the re­gion that can­not be repli­cated any­where on earth. There’s no es­cap­ing the melody of na­ture, as gen­tle breezes and free-flow­ing fronds com­bine beau­ti­fully in per­fect har­mony; no get­ting away from the heav­enly cho­ruses of tides ca­ress­ing mag­nif­i­cent world class beaches; no miss­ing the ca­dence of our con­ver­sa­tion, the tempo of our move­ment.

The Car­ib­bean is a fes­ti­val of rhythms and a home of fes­ti­vals – mu­sic, art, lit­er­ary, sail­ing, lights, food, rum, re­li­gious, dance – all with their own at­trac­tive rhythms.

The Year of Fes­ti­vals will fo­cus on the fas­ci­nat­ing events that have be­come an in­te­gral part of the Car­ib­bean tourism cal­en­dar. Fes­ti­vals help to en­er­gize com­mu­ni­ties across the re­gion, while giv­ing vis­i­tors more rea­sons to en­joy our des­ti­na­tions.

De­spite all there is to cel­e­brate in 2019, we must also ap­proach the New Year with a de­gree of cau­tion since there’s still much work to be done. While pre­lim­i­nary data from our mem­ber coun­tries re­vealed in­creased de­mand for travel to the vast ma­jor­ity of the 24 re­port­ing coun­tries, and de­spite a 9.1 per cent in­crease in ar­rivals in Septem­ber 2018 when com­pared to the same month in 2017, over­all our per­for­mance was still down in 2018. A third quar­ter de­cline of 3.2 per cent made this our best quar­ter, and the rate of tourist ar­rivals is now ex­pected to slow to -1.0 per cent to -2.0 per cent – a def­i­nite sign that the tide is turn­ing. Cruise pas­sen­ger ar­rivals are pro­jected to grow at an ac­cel­er­ated rate of around 6 per cent to 7 per cent.

With­out doubt, our re­gion is in a stronger po­si­tion than it was a year ago. We are en­cour­aged by the prospect of even greater col­lab­o­ra­tion with our part­ners in the in­dus­try, in­clud­ing the Car­ib­bean Ho­tel and Tourism As­so­ci­a­tion, the Florida Car­ib­bean Cruise As­so­ci­a­tion, and a range of travel pro­fes­sion­als and in­dus­try part­ners who con­sis­tently of­fer Car­ib­bean hol­i­day ex­pe­ri­ences to their best clients. Our con­fi­dence is buoyed by the progress our re­gion is mak­ing to com­bine its re­sources to bol­ster our com­pet­i­tive po­si­tion in­ter­na­tion­ally. The ev­i­dence is clear that a strong, uni­fied Car­ib­bean gives the re­gion a global ad­van­tage which in­di­vid­ual mem­ber­coun­tries on their own have lit­tle chance of at­tain­ing. The suc­cess of our coun­tries rests upon our abil­ity to speak as a re­gion with one strong voice.

On be­half of the CTO Coun­cil of min­is­ters and com­mis­sion­ers of tourism, the board of direc­tors, mem­bers and staff of the Car­ib­bean Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion, I thank you for all your com­mit­ment, hard work and sup­port in 2018, and wish you a New Year of rich bless­ings and pros­per­ity.

Hugh Ri­ley, Sec­re­tary Gen­eral of the CTO, looks onto the 2019 hori­zon with high hopes for Car­ib­bean tourism.

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