The Caribbean dominates the destination rankings in 2023
As global aviation reaches 75% of its pre-pandemic levels
Looking at the world’s most visited countries, seven of the top ten have a Caribbean coastline. The Dominican Republic heads the list, with 14% more visitors set to arrive by air in 2023 than in 2019. It is followed by Costa Rica and Aruba, both 11% ahead; Jamaica and Puerto Rico, both 9% ahead; Colombia and Mexico, both 5% ahead; The Bahamas and Greece, both 3% ahead and Saudi Arabia, flat, receiving the same number of flight arrivals as in 2019.
The Caribbean’s success has been driven by the strong appeal of beach holidays, proximity to the world’s strongest outbound travel market, the US, and economic dependence of many Caribbean countries on tourism, which caused them to introduce a variety of measures to keep attracting short-haul and long-haul visitors during the pandemic and afterwards. Colombia’s tourism growth is mainly due to a boost in airline seat capacity, up 31% on 2019. Saudia Arabia’s strong showing has been fuelled by government policy to invest $800bn in making the country a world class tourism destination, as well as efforts to increase air connectivity and removal of the attendance cap on the Haj pilgrimage. (The full destination list, with additional analysis and trends, and a listing of top cities, is included in ForwardKeys’ Destination Insights Report: Global Travel Trends 2023, which can be downloaded from: https://forwardkeys.com/global-travel-trends-2023/.)
An alternative analysis, focusing on a top twenty ranking of mainstream destinations, reveals that only four, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Mexico and Greece are set to exceed flight arrivals seen in 2019. After Saudi Arabia, sixth place is taken by Portugal, 1% behind; it is followed by Argentina, 3% behind, UAE, 7% behind, Türkiye, 9% behind and Egypt, 10% behind. Greece and Portugal, two European countries heavily dependent on tourism, have made strenuous efforts to remain visitor friendly. Argentina has profited from the collapse of its currency, making it a high value-for-money destination. The UAE has benefitted from its outstanding global air connectivity, willingness to receive direct flights from Russia and a surge in visitors from the USA. Türkiye and Egypt, which have also maintained direct flight connections with Russia have seen a consequent tourism benefit too.
A regional analysis of origin markets shows North America, particularly the US, to be the main driver of recovery elsewhere, with outbound flight bookings set to be just 3% behind pre-pandemic levels. Caribbean and Central American destinations, much in demand through 2022, remained popular but faced increased competition, as other destinations revived. The strong dollar and limited inflationary pressure stimulated demand for travel into Europe and APAC, where some countries saw more American visitors than in 2019.
In Latin America, where outbound flights are 18% behind 2019, Mexico, 3% ahead, and Colombia, 11% behind, are the potent feeder markets, underlining the importance of air connectivity.
European outbound air travel is set to be 21% behind 2019, with strong inflation holding back growth. The source markets, where outbound flights have managed to recover more strongly than the European average, are Ireland, 5% behind, Spain, 7% behind and Norway 9% behind.
In the Middle East and Africa, Egypt stands out as the only outbound market to recover to pre-COVID-19 levels, posting 4% growth. In the region, the most notable trend has been travel to Saudi Arabia, to visit friends and relatives for Eid al-Fitr celebrations in April and to make the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in late June.
Other notable travel trends of ‘23 include: the recovery of city tourism, growing popularity of African safaris, a strong revival of family group travel, particularly in the Americas, a sustained increase in demand for premium cabin classes, fewer but longer trips, and lead times between booking and travel lengthening to pre-pandemic norms.
Olivier Ponti, VP Insights, ForwardKeys, said: “In 2023, many destinations and travel businesses remained focused on recovery post-COVID-19. The speed of that recovery has varied by region, but by the end of 2024, it will be complete, even for those countries that lifted travel restrictions most recently.
This brings destinations back to the issues they were dealing with pre-pandemic. Where do they want to go with tourism? What type of tourism? For what purpose? But while the questions persist, the context has changed, shaped by geopolitical events, technological advances and rising concerns about sustainability.
¨Growth at all costs¨ is no longer viable. Destinations and travel businesses need to focus on new models of tourism which are socially, economically and environmentally responsible. In this context, access to accurate, timely and granular travel data is invaluable to success.”