St. John’s Antigua- Antigua & Barbuda and other Caribbean destinations are being warned by industry officials to brace for a decline in visitor spending, even as they predict a surge in visitor arrivals over the winter season.
The expected drop in expenditure is a concern for Caribbean tourism officials who fear that an increase in visitors may not be enough to offset the loss of revenue.
President of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Organization Josef Forstmayr expects the larger destinations to fare better with the smaller islands more likely to feel the pinch.
“The bodies are travelling, obviously, but the spending is clearly impacted,” said Forstmayr. “The larger destinations have it a little easier. They have more resources, they get better airlift; they have better products.”
The economic crisis forced people to defer their vacations for a few years, and while demand for travel has rebounded, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warns that tourists will not be able to spend much.
Evridiki Tsounta, an economist with the International Monetary Fund said the IMF has encouraged the Caribbean to diversify and seek other tourism markets, especially in Latin America, where the economy has been rebounding.
“Given that both the US and the UK are not faring very well, and the outlook is not very rosy moving forward, it will be hard for things to revert quickly,” Tsounta said.
Research Director at the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) Winfield Griffith said the economic crisis has led to tourist cutting back their expenditure on transportation, food and entertainment.
The research director said tourists are now more likely to take public buses instead of taxis and buy food and liquor at a supermarket rather than a restaurant.
“They know the drill,” he said. “In Barbados, for instance, you can pay $2 by public transport to go anywhere in the country. To go around the country by taxi would probably run you in the neighbourhood of $150. That’s a massive difference.”
The CTO said last year, tourists across the Caribbean spent $22.3 billion, compared with a record $27 billion spent in 2007.
But even with dwindling outlays, many Caribbean countries announced a record number of visitors last year and tourism officials hope to surpass the more than 23 million visitors reported last year, this winter season.
The cruise ship industry is expected to be a major contributor towards the growth in visitor arrivals according to Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief of CruiseCritic.com.
Last winter season, cruise lines withdrew their ships from the Caribbean and placed them in the Mediterranean, hoping to attract a wealthy European market.
“That was a radical experiment, and it failed,” Spencer Brown said. “So the ships are back in the Caribbean this year.”
Puerto Rico, a cruise-ship hub, anticipates a 20 per cent increase in visits, boosted by the new arrival of the Celebrity Silhouette line that is expected to generate $3.6 million in revenue, said Jose Perez-Riera, the US territory’s Commerce and Economic Development Secretary.
But industry officials say the growing number of visitors is not converting into increased revenue. They say tourists are demanding cheaper prices and scrutinizing deals before buying anything.
“People are very quirky these days about value for money,” Spencer-Brown said. “They’ll splurge for it, but it better be worth it.”