Caribbean Losing Tourism Market Share?
Caribbean Losing Tourism Market Share?
The beach remains the biggest attraction in global travel, with its popularity booming as never before. The Caribbean, however, is not benefitting much from improving numbers. Despite the world economic malaise over the past five years, global tourism has grown at an average of 5% per annum, a rate that far outpaces economic recovery. And beaches have been prominent in attracting ever more tourists to travel further than ever before in search of the perfect patch of warm sand.
Growth in arrivals in the Caribbean, however, is almost stagnating, United Nations World Tourism Organization (WTO) figures tell us, while the beaches of Southeast Asia, and Thailand in particular, have enjoyed a huge surge in new visitors.
The Caribbean region has seen lacklustre annual growth of about 2.5% in tourism numbers since the turn of the millennium, while WTO projects that even this will fall in the coming years. The Caribbean's total share of world tourism, currently 2.1%, is projected to fall to 1.7% by 2030 – not cheerful news for companies planning new investments in beach resorts in the region.
In stark contrast, however, Southeast Asia has enjoyed huge booms in visitor numbers year-after-year, with its 2013 jump of 12% making it the fastest growing tourist region on the planet. Thailand, clearly the star performer of that region, rose 18% in 2013 and saw a massive rise of 88% in tourist numbers in the five years up to 2013. Beautiful tropical beaches were, by far, the major attraction that brought a total of 26.7 million tourists to Thailand last year (more than the total for the entire Caribbean), allowing it to join the world's top 10 most visited countries for the first time.
Beaches were the biggest attraction in other Southeast Asian countries too, particularly Malaysia and the Philippines, both of which also offer a great diversity of islands with good quality beach resorts. Myanmar, newly opened to the world, is another powerful contender for future market share in beach tourism, with potential to pull many visitors away from older, more traditional beach destinations by the thousands. In the high season of 2014 Myanmar had just 49 hotels and resorts on three beaches along its northwest coast – but all eyes are on the 800 islands in its near-pristine Mergui Archipelago. These virtually uninhabited, stunningly beautiful islands currently have just a single beach resort, but planning for many more is already underway. Expect resorts on amazing tropical beaches to blossom here by the score, or perhaps the hundreds, in coming years.
The new influx of visitors to Southeast Asia's beaches has seen many bypassing and flying right over the traditional beach destinations in the Mediterranean, which also saw lacklustre growth in tourism over the past five years. With long distant travel now easier and cheaper than ever before, many once-too-distant destinations of Asia have become quite accessible. For wealthy Western Europeans, favoured guests in most beach resorts, the trip to Southeast Asia is about 2,000 kilometres and a few hours longer than that to the Caribbean – apparently not a big deterrent.
Some analysts believe the natural human lust for new horizons and fresh flavours makes it inevitable that ever-more travellers will head to the diverse countries of Southeast Asia, turning their backs on both the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. These traditional destinations are becoming too familiar for some, and not as 'exotic' as their Asian competitors. High crime rates in many Caribbean countries, and pollution in the Mediterranean, are also seen as deterrents that make many would-be visitors look further afield for new beaches.
The inexorable rise of Southeast Asia was further illustrated when Thailand took first place in the recent Global Beachfront Awards, a count of the true beachfront hotels in over 100 countries worldwide. With an amazing 1,250 absolute beachfront accommodations, Thailand overtook the USA (with 1,016 hotels), Mexico (with 943 hotels) and Spain (with 736 hotels), followed by the Philippines in 5th place. Traditional Mediterranean beach countries Greece, Italy and Turkey trailed in that order.
The web organization that issued the awards, The Beachfront Club, utilizes hi-tech mapping to pinpoint all true beachfront hotels and resorts on the planet – those that have no road or traffic between the rooms and the water.
The rise of Southeast Asia as a global challenger to the Caribbean and the Med is unlikely to see any slowdown for many years to come. The region is diverse in geography and culture, and the people are exceptionally friendly and welcoming to strangers. Most importantly, the warm, clear seas of Southeast Asia are strewn with thousands of beautiful islands with countless, empty tropical beaches, all waiting for beachfront hotels and near limitless visitors from cold climates seeking a patch of sand in the sun.
While beach tourism will continue to warm up as the global economy does, the competition among the world's beach destinations is already getting hot.