Caribbean reports record of 29M visits

Caribbean tourism officials say the region received a record number of visitors last year as arrivals topped 29 million

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - (AP) -- The Caribbean received a record number of visitors last year as arrivals topped 29 million, tourism officials announced Thursday, and they said growth should continue this year, though at a slightly slower pace due to uncertainty over U.S. President Donald Trump and the impact of Britain's move to leave the European Union.

Last year's 4.2 percent jump marked the seventh consecutive year of growth for the Caribbean, which officials said was a result of relatively low oil prices and U.S. economic growth.

The majority of tourists came from the U.S., but there was also a more than 11 percent growth in visitors from Europe and the United Kingdom, according to Hugh Riley, secretary general for the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

Officials said cruise ship arrivals, which are counted separately, also set a record with 26.3 million arrivals.

Overall, tourists including cruise ship passengers spent $35.5 billion last year, a 3.5 percent increase from the previous year. But Riley said that despite more visitors entering the region, hotels reported a drop in occupancy rates.

Arrivals to the Caribbean in 2017 are projected to grow somewhat more slowly, between 2.5 and 3.5 percent, said Ryan Skeete, research director for the Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization.

"It's a little bit unpredictable," he said of Trump's administration. "We're still monitoring it very closely ... That's all we can do."

He said the fallout of Britain exiting the European Union also could affect the number of visitors to the Caribbean this year.

Seven destinations reported double-digit growth rates last year, including the Turks & Caicos Islands, Cuba, Bermuda and the South American country of Guyana. Six other destinations reported a drop in visitors, including the Dutch Caribbean islands.

Visitors from South America dropped 11 percent last year, and those from Canada dropped nearly 3.5 percent.

"We haven't reached anywhere close to our full potential," Riley said.

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