Caribbean destinations must work more closely with their neighbours and encourage greater collaboration with source markets to “build resilience to market shocks”, tourism chief Frank Comito has said.
His admissions come amid a marked slump in forward bookings for the first quarter of 2020 according to analysis by global flight data specialist ForwardKeys, which found Q1 bookings lagging 3.6% behind where they were 12 months ago.
Q1 bookings from the UK specifically are nearly 11% behind year-on-year – the most severe decline from the region’s five most important source markets.
US bookings are 7.2% behind and Argentina 5.8%, although bookings from France and Canada are both ahead of where they were in Q1 2019, up 1.9% and 8.9% respectively.
“The outlook is challenging,” said ForwardKeys, albeit coming after its latest analysis found tourism to the Caribbean grew 4.4% last year, in line with worldwide tourism growth.
This increase was driven by a 6.5% increase in bookings from the US, the Caribbean’s most important market accounting for 53% of visitors, and 12.2% increase in bookings from Canada.
The Dominican Republic continues to lead the way for Caribbean tourism numbers, claiming 29% of visitor share, followed by Jamaica (12%), Cuba (11%) and the Bahamas (7%).
This was despite several challenges, said ForwardKeys, including a series of initially unexplained deaths of American tourists in the Dominican Republic, which led to a “temporary setback” for US bookings falling 21%.
The slack was picked up by other markets though; visitors to the Dominican Republic from Italy increased 30.3%, France 20.9% and Spain 9.5%, while some US visitors opted for Jamaica, the Bahamas and Puerto Rico instead, the latter experiencing a 26.4% increase in bookings last year.
Hurricane Dorian was the other major challenge for the Caribbean, with the Bahamas – Grand Bahama and the Abaco islands in particular – bearing the brunt of Dorian’s 150mph winds.
Bookings from four of the nation’s top seven markets fell “significantly” during August according to ForwardKeys, and were down in October and November before a “substantial recovery” in December.
Olivier Ponti, Forward Keys’ vice-president of insights, said: “There are plenty of opportunities for the destination to grow. Most significantly, an analysis of flight searches shows there is strong interest in the Caribbean from source markets which have very limited direct connectivity.
“For example, large numbers of people look for flights to Nassau from Paris, Milan, Warsaw, Rome and Zurich. This suggests that if new direct flights were established, many more visitors would come.”
Comito, chief executive and director general the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, added: “As a regional destination, one of the most useful things we can do is encourage collaboration between countries to build resilience to market shocks.”