Caribbean specialists are reporting strong sales for the past year. Juliet Dennis and Samantha Mayling look at trends in the region

Operators are seeing Caribbean sales bounce back, two years on from hurricanes Maria and Irma – although prices are rising by 10%-15% as Brexit hits the exchange rate.

Caribtours said revenue for the Caribbean was up 12% year on year, while Unique Caribbean Holidays – which sells Sandals and Beaches holidays – was up 15% year on year for the 12 months to April.

Gold Medal has seen sales to the Caribbean rise by about 1%. It said Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Tobago and Cuba were “standout destinations” thanks to new product options and its signing of new contracts.

The Caribbean Tourism Organisation said the region was seeing strong growth generally in 2019, following a better-than-expected performance in 2018.

Visitor numbers are rising by 6%-7% year on year as hurricane-hit islands return to capacity.

Most destinations reported year-on-year increases from the UK during January to May. Standout growth included Anguilla (103%), Dominica (65%) and St Kitts and Nevis (31%). Puerto Rico was up 74% for the January to April period.

Caribtours managing director Paul Cleary said: “Business has recovered well; islands such as Anguilla and Dominica are back for us.”

However, after the hurricanes, the operator diversified into other markets, especially in Europe, to protect it from the losses it experienced in the Caribbean, which totalled about £1 million.

Karl Thompson, managing director of Unique Vacations UK, anticipates further growth, especially as customers are seeking all-inclusive resorts and package holidays “in these uncertain economic times with Brexit around the corner”.

“Customers who book our higher-category Club and Butler suites are largely unaffected by the uncertainty as they have more disposable income,” he said.

Dominica visitor numbers top pre-hurricane level

UK visitor numbers to Dominica soared in the first half of 2019, as the island continues its recovery from hurricane Maria in September 2017.

British arrivals between January and June reached 2,605, up 59% year on year.

The eastern Caribbean island was one of the worst-hit by the storm, but first-half numbers were 8% higher this year than in the first half of 2017.

Colin Piper, tourism director at Discover Dominica Authority, said: “We predict this will continue to rise  for the rest of 2019 and into 2020 with the opening of luxury hotels including Jungle Bay, Cabrits Resort & Spa Kempinski and Anichi Resort & Spa.”

The tourist board expects UK numbers to increase further as Funway Holidays added 10 hotels to its programme – eight of which are included in its forthcoming 2020 Caribbean & Mexico brochure.

Malcolm Davies, Funway Holidays’ product destination manager, said: “Since the hurricane, the island has done a lot to rebuild and create some brand‑new resorts.”

Jamaica puts form online

Jamaica has introduced an online version of its Immigration and Customs Form (C5) to reduce waiting times at its airports.

Travellers can complete the form ahead of their flight rather than a paper form on arrival.

Elizabeth Fox, Jamaica Tourist Board’s regional director for the UK and northern Europe, said: “As Jamaica’s arrivals continue to soar, it’s important that we offer a speedier process at our airports. We hope this improved experience also promotes greater return visits for our guests.”

Hotels are in growth mode

The Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association says the destination is in “growth mode” following the two hurricanes of 2017.

Frank Comito, chief executive and director-general, said hotels were in the midst of a “bounce back” after UK arrivals fell in 11 of 22 major destinations in 2018 after hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Jamaica, Barbados, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Saint Lucia are the most popular destinations for the British market, he added.