A new study by travel analytics firm ForwardKeys has found that Caribbean tourism continues to grow despite the impact of Hurricane Dorian, which struck Grand Bahama and the Abacos in early September, as well as other powerful storms. ForwardKeys presented the results at a Caribbean Tourism Organization-sponsored news conference at World Travel Market.
Forward bookings for the winter season, from November 1, 2019, to January 31, 2020, are currently 1.6 percent ahead of where they were at the equivalent point last year, ForwardKeys said. Bookings from the United States – the region’s most important source market – however, are 3 percent behind. Bookings from all other major source markets are ahead: France by 9.8 percent, the UK by 0.9 percent, Canada by 8.2 percent, Argentina by 8.1 percent and the rest of the world collectively by 3.2 percent. The current leader is the Netherlands, which is 42.1 percent ahead.
Other trouble spots, however, remain. Forward bookings to the top destination in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic, are 14.2 percent behind, while those to the Bahamas and Aruba are 6.4 percent and 1.4 percent behind, respectively. Puerto Rico is showing strong growth, at 28 percent ahead, but ForwardKeys characterized this growth as a recovery story, as tourism to the island was hit hard by Hurricane Maria in December 2017.
Looking back on the first three quarters of this year, travel to the Caribbean has grown by 5.2 percent over the same period in 2018. The United States was the top source market during this period, with 56 percent share and 9 percent growth. Other origin markets were mixed, ForwardKeys said, with France down 2.2 percent, the UK down 4.7 percent and Argentina down 5.7 percent. Canada, however, has been up 15.3 percent, Chile up 17 percent and the rest of the world up 1.4 percent.
Hurricane Dorian struck Grand Bahama and the Abacos while leaving other parts of the Bahamas relatively undamaged. The result is that some parts of the country saw a drop in arrivals, while others experienced a significant increase. Travel to Freeport and Marsh Harbour in September fell by 50.9 percent and 67.9 percent, respectively, while the impact on Nassau, the capital and largest airport, was more limited: arrivals were down by 7.4 percent. Travel to Georgetown and North Eleuthera rose by 10.6 percent and 30.7 percent, respectively.
ForwardKeys said its research shows that recovering from the impact of a major hurricane can take years. So far, it has taken Puerto Rico 15 months to reach 70 percent of pre-hurricane arrivals, and it has taken St Maarten 20 months. In the case of the Bahamas, ForwardKeys said it expects the recovery to take less time because the initial rebound in both post-hurricane arrivals has been stronger: just one month after the hurricane, the Bahamas has reached 80 percent of pre-hurricane arrivals.