Travel Pulse speaks with travel agents specializing in Caribbean about hotel Occupancy Up and Down Across the Caribbean
Several Caribbean destinations are reporting strong 2019 visitor arrivals, even as recent data from travel research firm STR shows Caribbean hotel occupancy declined significantly this spring and summer.
While several regional nations are expected to post record 2019 visitor arrivals, travel agents specializing in Caribbean vacations say sensational news reporting of Dominican Republic safety and security issues impacted bookings across the Caribbean. Trending Now Travel Intel
News of Caribbean occupancy declines “doesn’t surprise me,” said Jennifer Doncsecz, owner of VIP Vacations. “The news in the Dominican Republic didn’t just affect the Dominican Republic. Americans hear horrible stories about a Caribbean island and correlate it to every island,” she said.
“At the height of the Dominican Republic media craziness [in June] our phone calls for new reservations were significantly lower than other June [periods],” she said.
STR reports Caribbean hotel occupancy declined 5.6 percent between April and August of this year, falling from a high of 75.2 percent in March to 61.1 percent in June compared with the same period in 2018.
Additionally, Caribbean RevPAR (revenue per available room) declined from 9.4 percent ($164.82) in April to -5.3 percent ($112.54) in August, eventually to $112.54, a falling 5.3 percent decline compared with the same period in 2018. Yet the occupancy and RevPAR declines come as several Caribbean destinations report strong arrivals.
For example, Cayman Islands Department of Tourism officials said August 2019 visitor arrivals increased 9.9 percent over 2018, the destination’s “best August on record” for land-based, overnight visitors.
To date the Cayman Islands has hosted 369,650 visitors, a 10.7 percent increase compared with 2018, and “more than the entire annual numbers for all years between 2000 and 2013,” officials said.
Meanwhile, Anguilla is “well on its way” to achieving a 20 percent year-over-year increase in overnight arrivals, according to Anguilla Tourist Board (ATB) officials. Anguilla recorded 55,916 land-based, overnight arrivals between January and June, a 16.8 percent increase over the 47,894 arrivals posted in 2017, during which the destination set the previous annual record.
Curaçao also posted strong first-half 2019 visitor arrivals, including a 17 percent year-over-year increase through May, “with all markets showing positive growth,” said Paul Pennicook, CEO of the Curaçao Tourist Board.
Meanwhile, St. Maarten’s overnight visitor arrivals are paced “far ahead” of 2018 levels in the first six months of 2019, said St. Maarten Tourist Bureau officials. In addition, St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association (SHTA) officials reported “strong hotel occupancy rates for the first six months” of 2019.
Tourism officials in Belize, Grenada and Saint Lucia also reported higher first-half 2019 arrivals. Louisiana-based Caribbean specialist Geraldine Simpson said Saint Maarten, Barbados and St. Lucia are all “hot” with travelers.
Conversely, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Cuba all suffered 2019 visitor arrival and hotel occupancy downturns, with each tied to specific events.
Dominican Republic travel slowed considerably this summer following the media reports of tourist deaths. Officials at the country’s Agency for Social, Solidarity and Sustainable Tourism termed the decline in Dominican Republic visits as “worrisome,” saying 11 hotels have closed on the island’s eastern resort districts, although they did not name the properties.
Visitor declines in Cuba were tied in the former case to the Trump administration’s travel restrictions. Puerto Rico tourism was impacted by lingering challenges following Hurricane Maria in late 2017. Tourism in the Bahamas may be impacted by Hurricane Dorian, although the territory’s main visitor districts were unaffected by the devastating storm.
“My Caribbean bookings are definitely not down at all for this year, they are actually higher than last year,” said Joel Scholtz of Romance Travel Pro, a Cruise Planners agency. “The report probably reflects the drastic drop in Dominican Republic bookings,” Scholtz said, due to “the media frenzy in the US over a non-issue.”
Doncsecz agreed the Dominican Republic’s issues may have impacted travel to other Caribbean nations. “We spent a significant amount of time in moving [vacationers on Caribbean itineraries] and many still canceled. So we had little time to market and attract new business for sales in July and August.”
Source: Travel Pulse