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Record Number of Tourists Visited the Dominican Republic in 2010

The Dominican Republic set a record for tourist visits in 2010. For the first time in history, the Dominican Republic surpassed 4 million visitors, according to the Ministry of Tourism,.

The Dominican Republic's success, coming despite a growing number of cholera cases, is part of a broader trend. 

The Caribbean is attracting tourists in numbers not seen since the start of the global economic crisis, with several islands boasting new records, government officials said Friday.

More than 23 million tourists visited the region in 2010, a nearly 5 percent increase from the 22.1 million that visited the previous year, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

The tiny eastern Caribbean islands of Anguilla and St. Lucia drew hordes of tourists from Canada and the U.S and posted double-digit increases. St. Eustatius, a speck of an island that was previously part of the Netherlands Antilles, got a big boost from European visitors.

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However, not all the news was unambiguously good. 

While the Bahamas reported a record number of visitors — more than 5 million — the amount they spent is nowhere near what tourists spent in 2008 prior to the economic crisis, said Tourism Minister Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace.

"We have to get there before we begin to celebrate," he said.

The jump in tourists came mostly from cruise ship passengers who spend very little compared with those who stay in the Bahamas. This was the case even though 70 percent of the islands' cruise ship passengers last year were on a Bahamas-only cruise, Vanderpool-Wallace said.

Cruise ship arrivals also increased elsewhere, with a 50 percent jump for the French Caribbean island of Martinique, 20 percent for Bermuda and nearly 18 percent for the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The majority of Caribbean tourists who arrived last year came from the U.S. and Canada, with officials blaming a drop in European tourists on a significant air passenger duty that Britain approved in 2009 and increased last year.

Despite the overall jump in tourism across the region, Josef Forstmayr, president of the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Organization, noted that the hotel sector posted just a 1 percent rise in occupancy last year despite a drop in rates.

"It will take us a few more years to get us back to where we were in 2007," he said."It's a big concern for us. The hotel industry was not highly profitable to start off with."