At least five Caribbean countries have suffered double-digit drops in tourist visits this year as the global economic slowdown wreaks havoc on the region's top industry, a researcher said Thursday.
The steep declines in the first quarter are the worst since the tourism slump that followed the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, said Winfield Griffith, acting director of research for the Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization.
"The point at which it will hit bottom is not clear," Griffith said.
Anguilla took the worst hit with a decline of 18.8 percent, according to CTO statistics. Tourist traffic fell 14.3 percent in Antigua, 13.7 percent in St. Lucia, 11.6 percent in Montserrat and 11.3 percent in the Cayman Islands.
Griffith said small islands may be struggling the most in part because airlines have been eliminating flights within the region.
Visits were down in all 12 reporting nations and territories except Jamaica, Cuba and Mexico's Cancun region. The U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico cited drops of 6.1 and 4.7 percent.
The reporting periods vary from country to country, but each measures tourism in early 2009 compared to the same time frame in 2008.
The statistics also show sharp declines in arrivals by cruise ship passengers: down 28.7 percent in Jamaica, 25.8 percent in Puerto Rico and 19.6 percent in the Cayman Islands.
Such visits have considerably less economic impact because they do not involve overnight stays.