Aerial view of bustling Charlotte Amelie, US Virgin Islands The Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) has described 2017 as a “challenging year’ for the region’s tourism sector but was looking forward to the new year with “optimism and excitement”.“For the New Year the CTO has declared 2018 The Year of Rejuvenation in the Caribbean. With wellness and rejuvenation being important aspects of the Caribbean tourism product, we are encouraging our member countries and private sector partners to plan and organise events and activities around that theme,” said CTO Secretary General Hugh Riley..“The 2018 Caribbean Year of Rejuvenation will be promoted through social media and traditional media channels and will create opportunities for locals, travellers and holiday/vacation planners to share their ideas on how to capture the Caribbean’s huge capacity for wellness and rejuvenation. It will be a time of rebirth for us and for those who come to share the joy of a Caribbean vacation experience,” he added.In his New Year’s message, Riley, said while the first half of the year saw exciting growth in both tourism infrastructure and tourist arrivals over the previous year, Hurricanes Maria and Irma in September “not only destroyed property, but also took the lives of many of our citizens.“We must never forget the souls we lost along the way. Physically, we will recover. Our Caribbean people are a resilient population. We will put the bricks and mortar back together and the hotels and vegetation will rise again and shine in the brilliant sunlight.”Impact of storms He said travellers coming to the Caribbean countries that were impacted by the storms will now notice various stages of the rebuild and recover effort.“Some are already fully up to speed and ready for the winter; others, only partially so. Our affected islands respect the safety and security of guests and staff and are therefore being frank and open about their state of readiness.”Riley said that given that tourism is the main economic driver for most of the Caribbean, “in the hurricane-affected islands guests in 2018 and beyond will expect to see a product that is rebuilt stronger, better and even more attractive than before.“That’s the plan, however long it takes to deliver,” Riley said, praising the various stakeholders for ensuring the continued survival of the industry.The Caribbean and Canada Riley said that the CTO recently embarked on a strategy to substantially enhance the Caribbean’s engagement in Canada, to develop business in non-traditional areas and work closely with our members’ representatives for maximum impact.“The Canadian market was a strong performer for most of 2017, with arrivals up by 6.4 per cent. We can now look forward to more expansion of that market in 2018. We also continued to focus on our two primary markets, the United States and Europe, with the United Kingdom, in particular, taking a central role. These markets were more robust in 2017 and we trust this will continue in 2018.”Intra-Caribbean tourism on the upswingThe CTO Secretary General said intra-Caribbean tourism, which has also been on the increase, would need continuous attention, especially under the current circumstances where the task of educating the travelling public and removing the barriers to intra-Caribbean travel will continue to be a challenge.Riley noted that 2017 was declared the “Year of Adventure in the Caribbean” and noted that the region capitalized on this in multiple promotions with member countries and industry partners.“The Caribbean Year of Adventure linked directly with the United Nations Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development and allowed us to pair adventure with sustainability,” he said, adding that the year culminated with the World Tourism Organization holding its Global Conference on Jobs and Inclusive Growth, in Jamaica, followed by the CTO’s partnership with the Caribbean Development Bank to host the Climate Smart Sustainable Tourism Forum in St. Kitts.