Caribbean sees jump in visitors since pandemic began

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Tourists flocked to the Caribbean last year in numbers not seen since the pandemic began, with the Dutch Caribbean and U.S. territories like Puerto Rico surpassing even pre-pandemic visitor arrivals, officials said Tuesday.

More than 28 million people visited the region in 2022, a more than 50% jump compared with the previous year, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

“It’s clearly apparent that even in the face of the devastating blows delivered by the pandemic, as a region, we have responded with hope, strength and determination to prevail,” Kenneth Bryan, the organization’s chairman, said during a news conference in Barbados.

The U.S. market drove more than 50% of arrivals to the region last year with 14.6 million U.S. tourists visiting — three million more than the previous year. Meanwhile, the number of European visitors nearly doubled to 5.2 million. Visits from Canadians, though, did not rebound as expected, with some 2.1 million reported.

Governments, tourism officials and local businesses in one of the most tourism dependent regions in the world celebrated the increase in visits.

“The Caribbean region (had) one of the quickest recovery rates in 2022,” said Neil Walters, the tourism organization’s acting secretary general.

Six islands and countries including Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and the U.S. Virgin Islands surpassed total pre-pandemic arrival numbers, Walters said.

The number of cruise ship visitors also soared last year, with 19.2 million visits reported, five times compared with the previous year. However, it fell short of the record 30.4 million visits announced in 2019.

Nearly all destinations reported an increase in visitors except for Haiti, which saw a more than 20% drop amid a spike in gang violence and political instability.

Bryan said tourism officials expect overall arrivals to the Caribbean to increase by up to 15% this year, possibly surpassing pre-pandemic levels. A record 32 million people visited the Caribbean in 2019, a number that dropped by 65% the following year when the pandemic began.