Cruise industry in the Caribbean – statistics & facts

Spanning 2.75 million square kilometers, with roughly seven thousand islands, more than 20 bordering countries, and sun-bathing temperatures all year round, the Caribbean Sea has become the main hub for cruise tourism in the world. In recent years, the region has reached around one third of the global passenger capacity, surpassing the Mediterranean by a wide margin as the most important market for this kind of tourism.

The Caribbean sea is part of the Central American sea, located on the Western side of the Atlantic Ocean. The United States, the closest global player to the Caribbean region in the North American continent, was the leading country of origin among cruise travelers in 2018, with more than double the share of cruise passengers originating from the other nine countries on the ranking. Brazil, the only Latin American country on the list that year, accounted for approximately two percent of the cruise passengers worldwide, suggesting that despite geographic proximity, cruise tourism remains a luxury service in the global travel and tourism sector.

Main cruise ports in the Caribbean

In addition to its significant role in the Latin American travel and tourism sector, Mexico stands out in the Caribbean cruise industry as well. Cozumel, a Mexican island on the Yucatán Peninsula, holds the record for cruise traffic in the region. In 2019, the port of Cozumel served more cruise ships than the other six busiest cruise ports in Mexico and has registered more than four million cruise passenger arrivals since 2017.

On the Central American subcontinent, Panama is one of the key players for cruise tourism. The three busiest cruise ports in the region are found in that country, with a combined cruise passenger traffic of approximately 660 thousand departures and arrivals in 2019. The renowned duty-free zone at the country’s most important port is one of the major attractions for cruise tourists. According to a survey of 2018, perfume and cosmetic products was the category with the highest average tourism expenditure among that kind of travelers in Panama.

Economic impact of tourism in the region

Most of Caribbean islands rely heavily on tourism. In 2019, this sector directly contributed to nearly one third of the gross domestic product (GDP) of Aruba and made up around one quarter of the GDP in the British and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The direct contribution of the region's travel and tourism sector to GDP is nearly five percent, though only six countries and territories registered percentages below that average that year. Consequently, most Caribbean islands reached double-digit rates of direct employment in tourism in 2019, with Saint Lucia holding the highest share in the whole region.

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Cruise industry in the Caribbean

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Mexico and Central America

Caribbean islands

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