Caribbean destinations are seeking to manage a profound post-outbreak visitor surge highlighted by a series of new flight options across several countries and strong 2023-2024 passenger growth projections around the region.
“Our islands continue to get strong and better post-COVID,” said Kenneth Bryan, chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), at a June 8 press briefing during the group’s Caribbean Week conference in New York.
“Many islands are doing better than they were in 2019,” Bryan said. “As you know our average daily rates are through the roof, although some countries haven’t gone back to the [visitor] volume [posted pre-pandemic].”
Several Caribbean nations are celebrating visitor arrivals that approach or break levels achieved in 2019, prior to the pandemic. Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica’s tourism minister, said the country continues to experience significant traveler growth.
“Between January 1 and May 10, we received 1,586,303 total visitors, stopover and cruise, putting our destination on par with 2019 record figures,” Bartlett said.
He cited “strategic investments and resilience building” as “key areas of focus in sustaining the strong recovery of the tourism sector.”
“The first two quarters of 2023 have been record-breaking for most of our resorts and hotels on Nassau Paradise Island,” said Joy Jibrilu, CEO of the Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board (NPIPB).
Nassau Paradise Island’s accommodations inventory represents 85 percent of Bahamas hotel rooms. Generally, Nassau Paradise Island hoteliers report, “the average daily rate is holding, but occupancy is very high,” Jibrilu said.
“If we continue at the rate that we are at now, we are going to surpass our record-breaking year of 2019,” when the territory hosted 1.8 million land-based, overnight visitors, according to CTO data.
Barbados is also reporting improving visitor arrivals backed by expanded air services. “When you compare our numbers with 2019, we are at about 68 percent” of 2019 arrivals, said Ian Gooding-Edgehill, the country’s minister of tourism.
“We are confident we will get back to our 2019 levels and exceed them,” Gooding-Edgehill said. The country has also added new airline capacity dedicated US routes.
“We have United Airlines flying to Barbados on a seasonal route,” added Gooding-Edgehill. “We’ve expanded that beyond seasonality to once a week.”
“We also have JetBlue out of New York and those have all contributed to increased numbers in terms of arrivals.”
From 144,124 visitors in pandemic-impacted 2020, Belize rebounded to 372,614 overnight land-based visitors in 2022, said Gail Ozaeta, marketing and communications manager at the Belize Tourism Board.
Through April of 2023, the country hosted 124,359 visitors. Ozatea said Belize has reached about 72 percent of its 2019 arrivals, she said.
Belize is one of several Caribbean countries to announce new air service in 2023. BTB announced on June 6 that JetBlue will launch thrice-weekly, nonstop service between New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and Belize’s Phillip SW Goldson International Airport.
“This is a huge win for our ongoing efforts to make Belize accessible to more US visitors,” said Anthony Mahler, Belize’s minister of tourism and diaspora relations.
Other Caribbean countries announced expanded air service highlighted by first-ever direct flights to two destinations.
JetBlue will launch twice-weekly, direct flights from New York to St. Kitts beginning November 2. The service provides travelers with the first direct links to St. Kitts and sister island Nevis.
“The introduction of this new flight option from New York City to St. Kitts offers direct access to our island from a major US travel hub,” said Devon Liburd, CEO of the Nevis Tourism Authority.
“With enhanced convenience,” Liburd said, “we anticipate that a greater number of American tourists will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the paradise we proudly call home.”
Meanwhile, the British Virgin Islands (BVI) welcomed the June 1 launch of daily nonstop American Airlines flights between Miami International Airport and the BVI’s Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport.
The first-ever direct flight to the territory eliminates the need for travelers to connect in Puerto Rico or St. Thomas.
“As the first non-stop flight from the US in decades, this is a monumental opportunity to bring more North American travelers to the crystal-clear waters of our beloved island-destination,” said Clive McCoy, director of tourism, British Virgin Islands Tourist Board & Film Commission.
“We are recovering from the pandemic nicely,” McCoy said. “American Airlines sees the appetite for the destination.”