Caribbean Bound? Do Your Homework. Don’t Get Burned

If you’re planning a trip to the Caribbean in what remains of this winter, you should have no difficulty finding your choice of location at prices comparable to last year. There’s plenty of room at the inn.

But if your travel choice is one of the Big Three destinations below—which account for three-quarters of Canadian vacation trips to the Caribbean overall—you still need to do your due diligence on the state of your chosen resorts to make sure the standards are what you expect, and you need to remain increasingly vigilant about your personal safety and security. For specific warnings, check out Travel Canada’s advisory service links for each country.

Mexico

According to STR—the hotel data collection company—revenues per available room, average daily room rates, and occupancy rates have all fallen, with the Yucatan Peninsula (which encompasses Cancun and Cozumel) being the most heavily hit area. Yucatan has also been cursed by last summer’s severe outbreak of sargassum (seaweed), which sent beachgoers running inland while holding their noses.

The publication Travel Weekly reports that hotel room oversupply has exacerbated the problem of dropping occupancy to the point that major hotel/resort developers are wary of moving ahead with building projects that have been in the works for several years.

One of the largest of these companies, Apple Leisure Group, has recently put up to $600 million in Mexican hotel developments on hold.

Though Mexico continues to be the most visited vacation destination for Canadians apart from the US, increasingly aggressive drug cartel activities in large areas of Mexico are taking their toll on tourism … even though Canadians seem to continue to ignore the bad press reports.

When planning your trip, make sure to first check out Travel Canada’s advisories. The warning level for Mexico is “Exercise a high degree of caution.” And stay out of any areas designated “Avoid non-essential travel.” Pay attention to these advisories as your travel insurance benefits may be invalidated if you encounter a problem in such a restricted area.

Cuba

Cuba, which has for many years regarded Canada as its top tourism benefactor, had hoped to break the “five million visitors” mark (total, from all countries) in 2019, but now will have to settle for slightly less than four million by the time all data is collected.

Tourism officials attribute this drop to a tightening of US embargo restraints largely precipitated by Cuba’s continuing support of the Nicolas Maduro regime in Venezuela—which has been opposed by dozens of Western nations including Canada. Just recently the US also banned charter and commercial flights to Cuba to supplement its ban on cruise ships. US travel agents have reported that their business to Cuba has dropped precipitously since imposition of the restraints, and reports from inside Cuba show that rationing of household goods, even cooking oil, has become increasingly severe, affecting virtually all segments of the population.

Though tourism remains Cuba’s prime hope for economic stability, the expectation of increasing travel restraints is seen with some anxiety by hotel developers who just six or seven years ago were expecting an unbridled boom not only in tourism but the economy generally.

Meanwhile, the Conference Board of Canada has reported a continuing slump in the numbers of Canadian visitors to Cuba to just over 857,000 for the first three quarters of 2019. That’s down only 0.4 per cent from the same period in 2018, but it’s down a substantial 11 per cent for that same time period in 2016 — a steady downward trajectory.

Though Cuba remains at Travel Canada’s “Take normal security precautions” advisory level, there are anecdotal reports of an uptick in pickpocketing incidents, burglaries, and thefts in more congested areas of Havana as well as from hotel rooms being reported by Canadians.

Check out Travel Canada’s Cuba advisories and click on the “Safety and Security” tab for more local details.

Dominican Republic

The DR also suffered a 2.7 per cent reduction of Canadian visitors in the first three quarters of 2019 from the same period in 2018, due largely to bad international press reports related to a string of mysterious hotel/resort deaths in the early part of 2019. In fact, bookings from the US fell 84 per cent during July and August.

But since then the DR has fought back with a multi-pronged, multi-million-dollar ad campaign featuring “the Real DR,” focusing on the natural beauties of the island. It hopes to deflect attention away from the more sordid details of last summer’s media elegy.

Large hotel developers appear to have retained their faith in the DR’s tourism future and continue with their building plans, primarily in the “all-inclusive” market. But they also are aware that one or two more “mysterious” reports of food or minibar poisonings can just as quickly turn optimism sour.

At present, Travel Canada maintains the DR at “Exercise a high degree of caution” levels, with localized reports of pickpocketing, bag snatching, drive-by thefts, and hotel room burglaries—particularly at “all-inclusive” resorts.

For more details go to Travel Canada’s DR advisories and check out the “Safety and Security” tab.

Play it safe

Regardless of your location, play it safe and keep your travel insurance policy, plane tickets, passport, and other valuables in a safe place—definitely not lying about with your sightseeing brochures and room service menus on a side table.


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