File photo of visitors in Dominica

Battered by major hurricanes, the Caribbean is expected to see anemic growth of one to two percent in 2017 and that downswing is expected to continue in 2018, according to Dionisio D’Aguilar, chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO).

The CTO had predicted earlier this year that tourism in the region would grow by 3.5 percent in 2017 but with the ravages caused by Hurricanes Maria and Irma, the organization was forced to rethink its figures.

Making reference to Charles Dickens’ classic novel A Tale of Two Cities, D’Aguilar said at a news conference at the World Travel Market conference in London this week that following record performances in the first half of 2017, “some of our member countries, and by extension the region, [experienced] the worst of times with the passage of hurricanes Irma and Maria.”

“We began the year growing at a healthy pace of 5.2 percent between January and June, when compared to the same period last year,” he said, noting that the actual performance was way ahead of the forecasted growth rate of between 2.5 and 3.5 percent.

At that point the initial performance was a reflection of the economic stability in the marketplace, the expansion and inauguration of flights by major carriers and a new marketing and product development thrust.

By the middle of the year, before the hurricanes struck, the Caribbean recorded 16.6 million international tourist arrivals, which was 800,000 more than projected.

Growth was recorded in all major source markets except South America, which contracted by 14.3 per cent.

The European market was up 7.9 percent, Canada by 6.4 percent, and despite the weak pound sterling, the United Kingdom grew by 4.8 percent, the CTO chairman said.

Hotels also recorded better earnings, as reported by STR Global, which estimated average occupancy increased marginally by 0.2 percentage points to 70.8 percent, while the average daily room rate rose from US$220.84 to US$221.38 year on year, a marginal increase of 0.2 percent.

Growth in the cruise sector was also positive and stronger than the expected performance in the first half of the year. Cruise visitors increased 4 percent to 15.3 million.

“This performance represented the largest number of cruise passengers in the region at this time of year then came the hurricanes,” D’Aguilar commented. “That inflicted such damage on some of our member countries, causing such despair!” D’Aguilar said.

He added, “There has been widespread coverage of the damage caused to these countries and territories, the most serious among them being Anguilla, Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Puerto Rico, both Dutch and French Saint Martin and the US Virgin Islands,” he said, adding that “understandably, this triggered a slowdown, with travel to many of these destinations.”

In light of the devastation and citing the Caribbean Development Bank on the potential economic impact, the CTO chairman noted that every one percent reduction in tourist arrivals could cost US$137 million in lost revenue.

The worst-hit areas saw a decrease in the frequency of flights.

“Among the worst hit destinations, the frequency of flights to Puerto Rico decreased by 25.1 percent, Dominica by 13.7 percent, St Maarten by 12 percent, the British Virgin Islands by 11.2 percent, Anguilla by 6.3 percent and the US Virgin Islands by 5.6 percent,” the CTO chairman reported.