This has been a challenging year for Caribbean tourism. While the first half of the year saw exciting growth in both tourism infrastructure and tourist arrivals over the previous year, in September we were hit hard by a series of unusual hurricanes that 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.
We take this time, a season of celebration and joy and the promise of a new beginning, to both reflect on the preceding year and look forward to tomorrow. And we will take the time to give thanks.
Travellers coming to the countries that were impacted by the storms will now see various stages of the rebuild/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.
As tourism is the main economic driver for most of the Caribbean, we place enormous emphasis on delivering value and a superb visitor experience. 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.
We are thankful that the vast majority of the Caribbean never got touched by the hurricanes, so those islands have continued to welcome visitors every day. For them it's business as usual. We are grateful to the travel professionals, the many visitors and our citizens themselves who continue to share images of the Caribbean today. Those pictures tell a thousand realities.
We want to use this time to thank our member countries that were quick to come to the aid of others not so fortunate. We want to thank our partners, the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association, the airlines, cruise lines and the hotels across the region that have worked and are still working to bring the Caribbean back to normal operations. We want to thank our marketing and sales partners, the tour operators, wholesalers and travel agents from around the world who have stood by the region and continue to promote and sell our destinations. And we want to thank the media that have, for the most part, painted a proper picture of our region that is clearly open for business. Through it all, we are also eternally grateful to our visitors and to the Caribbean Diaspora who stand shoulder to shoulder with our region in times of need.
Even as we prepare to greet a New Year let us take a moment to look back on a few of the successes of 2017.
Recently we 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. New travel agent training and certification, increased use of targeted social media, enhanced deployment of the CTO's data analysis tools, and more focused engagement with the Caribbean Diaspora were all components of the 2017 strategy for Canada. The Canadian market was a strong performer for most of 2017, with arrivals up by 6.4 percent. 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 UK, in particular, taking a central role. These markets were more robust in 2017 and we trust this will continue in 2018.
We realized too, that intra-Caribbean tourism, which has also been on the rise, would need our 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.
At the start of the year we declared 2017 the Year of Adventure in the Caribbean and we 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.
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.
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.
For travellers who focus on renewing body and spirit, the options are virtually endless; from beachfront workouts and yoga retreats, to wellness resorts and spa treatments, the notion of being rejuvenated in the Caribbean is one more reason to let us pamper you in 2018.
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.
We look forward to 2018 with optimism and excitement.
On behalf of our CTO Chairman, The Hon. Dionisio D'Aguilar, Bahamas Minister of Tourism, the CTO Council of Ministers and Commissioners of Tourism, the Board of Directors, Members and Staff of the CTO, I thank you for your continued support of our region, and I wish you and yours a safe, peaceful and prosperous New Year.