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Thursday,  June 13, 2024 4:35 AM 

CTO reports a decline in Canadian visitors but a strong year overall for the region

CTO reports a decline in Canadian visitors but a strong year overall for the region
Hugh Riley, secretary general and CEO for the CTO, speaks to members of the Canadian media.

At the Caribbean Media Day/Marketplace held yesterday (Nov. 22) in downtown Toronto, Hugh Riley, secretary general and CEO for the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), met with media to discuss the region’s performance in 2016, the various challenges it is facing, as well as growing trends heading into 2017.

While a banner year overall for visitors to the Caribbean, with an increase of 5.2 per cent during the first half of 2016 and a total of 15.7 million tourist visits, the Canadian market was a rather different story.

“On the heels of a 4.5 per cent rise last year, we are experiencing a decline from Canada,” said Riley. “During the first six months of 2016, the Caribbean welcomed approximately 2.1 million Canadians, that’s down by 3.7 per cent when compared to the same period last year.”

Due in large part to the depreciation of the Canadian dollar and possible effects of Zika (“We haven’t seen any massive cancellations as a result of Zika but it is a concern,” said Riley), the CTO reported a decline in each of the first six months of 2016, with a 3.9 and 3.3 per cent drop year over year in the first and second quarters, respectively.

Ontario continues to be the largest source market out of the country, producing 61 per cent of Canada’s visitors to the Caribbean, with Quebec coming in next at 11 per cent. Unsurprisingly, Cuba remained the top performing destination for Canadians in the first half of the year, although there was still a 4.3 per cent decline in visitors, year over year.

Despite this softening however, Riley reported that the overall performance of the region in 2016 has remained above trend “and in line with our projected 4.5 to 5.5 per cent rise, which should take us over the 30 million mark for the first time ever.” In other words, 2016 was another solid year for tourism to the Caribbean.

Along with focusing on engaging more with travel agents (who Riley calls “very important influencers”) and consumers through a robust social media strategy and various other outreach initiatives in order to keep visitor numbers trending in a positive direction, Riley spoke about other factors that are making an impact in the region, the first of which being the sharing economy, led in large part by Airbnb, the dominant player in that field.

“It is growing in the Caribbean and we are paying a lot of attention to it,” said Riley. “I’ve been told we’ve got over 30,000 listings on Airbnb in the Caribbean, and our responsibility is to advise our members of the CTO on the best way to deal with the challenges as well as the opportunities that the sharing economy will bring.”

Some of the opportunities that Riley outlined was the desire of visitors to the region to stay in local communities and feel the real Caribbean experience, while the challenges have to do with the overall contribution the sharing economy has to the GDP, what it does to hotel occupancy rates, to employment and to taxation – “those are the other sides of that coin,” Riley continued. “In life there are pros and cons, there are challenges and opportunities, and there is no way we can ignore this one. It is growing and the consumer is speaking.”

Coming in 2017, Riley spoke of the return of the Sustainable Tourism Conference, which will be held in Turks & Caicos (date TBA), and the State of the Tourism Industry Conference – the CTO’s largest annual event – which will be held in Grenada in September or October (date TBA).

The press conference was followed by a marketplace event featuring CTO-member countries.

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