Turks and Caicos welcomed more than 1 million tourists for only the second time in the nation's history during 2013, the result of an encouraging 10.4 percent overall increase in visitors, according to new figures released on Feb. 12 by the Ministry of Tourism.
The growth rate ranked the TCI among the region's leaders, and was particularly encouraging in light of the year's dreary first-quarter start, which included the three-week closure of the Grand Turk Cruise Center during March and April.
Ships stopped calling at the Grand Turks Cruise Center during that period after several cruise lines noticed an increase in the number of passengers reporting illness following visits to the island. The shutdown slashed March cruise arrivals by half and cost the economy millions in lost revenues, even though the official inquiry into the issue ultimately failed to “conclusively determine that there was a direct link between the reported cases … and the passengers' visits to the island.”
Cruise passengers continued to contribute the lion's share of visits to the TCI last year, making up 73 percent of the 1,069,497 tourists welcomed by Turks and Caicos in 2013.The industry finished the year on a roll, picking up big numbers in traditionally “slow” months, and wound up recording 15 percent annual growth. That rate ranked TCI's cruise industry among the strongest in the Caribbean.
The other segment of the TCI tourism economy – referred to as “stop-over guests” or “land-based arrivals,” finished essentially level with its 2012 performance. These more traditional tourists – who provide the bulk of the value generated by the hospitality sector – stay longer, spend more money (most of it Providenciales). Their numbers fell by 0.4 percent to 290,587, an annual decline of 1,136 visitors.
Compared to other Caribbean destinations, TCI's stop-over sector finished in the middle of the pack. Half of the 12 other nations surveyed by the Caribbean Tourism Organization experienced declines in 2013, and of the nations that did not expand their stop-over traffic, TCI's decline was the smallest.
Ralph Higgs, TCI's director of tourism, said the data show that the Turks and Caicos Islands “continue to shine through a number of factors that woud have diverted it from growth. These numbers not only indicate good news for both the county and the tourism indusry, but also respresents the potential for growth in the months ahead.” Higgs predicted the addition of new air routes to the island in 2014 will produce an increase in stop-over tourists this year.
Airlift data presented in the survey shows that the December merger of American Airlines and US Airways makes the new American Airlines Group the single most important player in Provo airlift capacity. Flights by the now-merged carriers in 2013 accounted for more than half the total tourist arrivals at Provo International Airport.
Travelers from the United States accounted for almost eight out of 10 TCI stop-over visitors, up 1.5 percent. Most of those gains came at the expense of Canadian tourists, who declined by 16 percent, and vistors from the United Kingdom, who dropped by almost 23 percent. Not surprisingly, three U.S.-based carriers accounted for almost 70 percent of land-based arrivals in the TCI.
Ministry of Tourism officials were also encouraged by this number: 95.9. That's the percentage increase in visitors from Brazil last year. Though the raw number remains relatively small, Brazil was one of the emerging markets the ministry targeted as part of its strategy for 2013.
The figures collected for the annual survey do not include passengers in transit, returning residents, or passengers arriving on private aircraft at the FBO. The number of tourists arriving by private plane grew in 2013, but the ministry excluded those results from this study because information it collected on private plane arrivals lacked relevant demographic data.
Breaking the million-visitor mark again (TCI first attracted 1 million tourists in 2011) "speaks to the strength of our destination, our product, and the hospitable nature of our people working directly and indirectly in he tourism industry," said the Hon. Rufus Ewing, TCI Premier and Minister of Tourism, Culture and Heritage.
President of the Turks and Caicos Hotel and Tourism Association (TCHTA), Mr. Michel Neutelings noted, “The result of increased arrivals is attributed to the combined marketing efforts of the TCHTA, the individual hotel properties, airlines, cruise port, minor stakeholders and the Tourist Board.”
The TCI Tourist Board agenda for 2014 currently includes participation in a series of travel and trade shows, traditional and non-traditional media campaigns, plus sponsorships and promotional events.