August 11, 2011
Best Singles Destinations in the Caribbean
On the heels of Hilton Worldwide’s recently released study on the most popular Caribbean, Mexican and Latin American destinations for singles, I thought it would be fit as Travel Agent’s Caribbean editor to chime in with a few picks of my own.
Now, whether or not you feel Hilton’s study is objective or just based on destinations where there is a Hilton present, their picks, in my opinion, are pretty spot on.
They list Buenos Aires, Argentina; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Mexico City, Mexico and San Juan, Puerto Rico all as popular singles destinations. In Argentina, I would also include Bariloche in the Patagonia region simply for the action-adventure opportunities. In Brazil, I would also include Buzios, perhaps the country’s hottest beach destination that has also been described as "the Hamptons of Brazil." In Mexico, Playa del Carmen’s fifth avenue, which is stacked with outdoor restaurants, bars, live music and both high-end and affordable shopping, make it a popular singles destination.
Now let's focus on their Caribbean pick before I sprinkle in some of my own. First off, San Juan - and Puerto Rico in general- is definitely suited for singles travel with some of the best nightclubs, casinos and dining in the region. According to Hilton’s written release on the study, “During the day, the historic city of Old San Juan and surrounding natural wildlife, such as the El Yunque Rainforest, provide fun and adventure perfect for newly found friendships or a day alone.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Now, Port Antonio, Jamaica’s lush, tropical region full of luxury resorts and high end restaurants, is perhaps the only spot in the country that is primarily for couples. The rest of the island's tourism spots, Montego Bay, Negril and Ochos Rios, are all suitable for singles as well as couples and families. I would say Montego Bay would be the best singles spot in Jamaica for its great nightlife and affordable resorts.
St. Lucia is most likely a bit of a surprise since most people consider it a honeymoon and wedding destination. Although the island’s exposure on The Bachelor a few seasons ago cemented its position as one of the most romantic destinations in the Caribbean, its Rodney Bay district is one of the coolest hangout for singles I’ve seen in the Caribbean. In less than a two-block span, you will find at least 10 outdoor restaurants and bars playing music, attracting hundreds of tourists looking to dance the night away,
In the Dominican Republic, Puerto Plata is probably more suitable for singles than couples-friendly Punta Cana, but don’t rule out the Hard Rock Punta Cana for an excellent girls' or guys' getaway. When I was there earlier in the year, I saw the most singles I’ve seen at a resort in the Caribbean in quite some time. This is most likely due to the chill, music scene the property endorses and the monthly concert series its promotes.
In The Bahamas, Paradise Island is excellent for both singles and families whereas the Exumas is where you will find couples. In Paradise Island, singles have Atlantis and other popular casinos to blow some steam off at as well as some great (and very affordable) nightlife spots.
These are just a few picks I came up with, but feel free to chime in with your own picks for best singles destinations in the Caribbean.
January 06, 2011
A Tour of Stonefield Estate Villa Resort & Spa in St. Lucia
ST. LUCIA – During a recent trip to St. Lucia, Travel Agent toured the 17-villa Stonefield Estate Villa Resort & Spa, a former lime and coconut plantation that was transformed into a hotel roughly five years ago.
Only 13 percent of all bookings last year were made through an agent, but the resort just started to market heavily in the U.S., which is why you may not heard of this property until now.
This is one of those “disconnect” luxury resorts where no televisions or landlines can be found in the rooms, although cell phones can be requested upon check in. The resort will be becoming a little more connected in June, however, when all the rooms become equipped with iPod docking stations, according to Ernie George, the property’s general manager.
George told us roughly 80 percent of the guests are Americans while 5-10 percent come from Canada and the rest arrive from the United Kingdom. He says most guests usually stay for seven to nine days, but shorter stays of four or five nights became more common when JetBlue Airways launched nonstop service to the island about a year ago.
The only downside here is the lack of a beach on the property. Stonefield, however, uses the very nearby beach at the Jalouise Plantation and plans to add a path from the resort to Jalouise’s beach sometime in the near future, George said. Other plans for the resort include the construction of 13 more villas within the next two years.
The best room at this resort is the Hillside Majestic Ocean View villa. There is only one of these. We saw the Hillside Ocean View room. This room, although not the top category, was pretty impressive, with views of one of the two Piton mountains right smack in front of the room.
The views from the three-bedroom villa’s outdoor plunge pool and hammock are what makes the room worth booking. There are four of these rooms at the resort and they start at roughly $650 a night. The top category is pretty similar although it has 700 square feet of extra room and a larger pool.
The modest but elegant spa, which opened in 2008, has just two treatment rooms and a salon, but most massages at the resort are done in the rooms or outdoors.
Thirty percent of all food served at the resort’s signature restaurant Mango Tree, is grown on the property. The resort also offers cooking classes once a week, beginning in February, and holds Thursday-night barbecues.
Recommend this resort to affluent honeymooners or couples in general. But for the more budget-conscious client, suggest perhaps a one- or two-night stay here followed by a three-or-four-night stay at a nearby Sandals or another more affordable all-inclusive.
Commission ranges from 15 to 20 percent based on the volume of the booking, said George.
December 16, 2010
Luxury and Romance on St. Lucia
ST. LUCIA – Was Jade Mountain the best hotel I have ever stayed at in the Caribbean? Well, there was an infinity pool in the bedroom of my three-wall room at this ultra-luxury resort in St. Lucia.
This room was just pure heaven. I can see why a guest here once stayed in the room for five consecutive days without stepping foot outside. There is quite simply no reason to leave. And you aren’t exactly inside, either.
Each room has only three walls.Without the fourth wall, you are basically outside while in your room. You can catch plenty of rays just by sitting in the lawn chairs in your living room. The pool begins from your bed, which is netted to protect you from mosquitoes, and extends to the front of your living room with perhaps the best view I’ve ever seen at a Caribbean hotel.
Looking out from the edge of your pool, you can see the pride of St. Lucia: the Pitons, two gigantic, gorgeous green twin mountains.
To your right is more ocean, which looks like a painting when the sun goes down. To make a long story short, I was in my room, in a pool, drinking a cold beer, overlooking a real-life mountain.
This was one of the first luxury properties I had seen in the Caribbean when it first opened roughly four years ago, right around the time I began covering the region. I never got to stay there until now, but the wait was well worth it — even if I only got to stay for one night.
Also, there is a Jacuzzi directly in front of the shower, which has no walls at all.
I stayed in room JA2, known as “Moon,” one of the 29 rooms of this resort, which is owned by Karolin and Nick Troubetzky, who also own the original Anse Chastanet. Anse Chastanet was built in the ‘70’s and Jade Mountain is its sister property, the newer of the two and practically a resort-within-a-resort.
Although situated near the same location, the difference is that Jade Mountain comes with access to the pools and a butler for every room. The lowest category rooms at Jade Mountain, however, only come with a Jacuzzi. Rooms are pretty pricey, ranging from $1,200 to about $2,300 a night.
The only drawback for someone like me was the room's lack of a television. That’s usually not a problem since the typical guests here are not lonely travel writers, but honeymooners, a variety of guest this property has consistently attracted since it was featured on “The Bachelor” last season. In fact, the terrace of Jade Mountain, where private dinners can be arranged, was the site where Jake proposed on the show. Or, so I’ve heard.
Butlers, upon request, can bring wireless devices to your room, so you have Internet service if you feel the desire to connect with the outside world or, in my case, brag to your friends about what an awesome job you have.
You simply can’t go wrong pitching this incredible resort. This is mainly for honeymooners and wedding destination-seekers, but Anse Chastanet is also a place for families to stay.
December 14, 2010
A Tour of St. Lucia’s First-Ever Casino
ST. LUCIA – So, I managed to go four straight days in Las Vegas without playing a single hand of Blackjack, keeping intact my New Year’s resolution to not gamble in a casino. And what happens?
The day I arrive for a four-day press trip to St. Lucia, the island opens its first casino since it was discovered by Columbus.
Now, I could have easily stayed away, but I had to get a first-hand look at something I thought I’d never see on this Caribbean island. The Treasure Bay Casino has 257 slot machines (90 percent of which are penny slots), nine Blackjack tables, one Craps table, one Roulette table, 31 televisions in the bar and three poker tables in a private area. The casino is located in the Bay Walk mall in the heart of Rodney Bay, the area of the island with the most vibrant nightlife.
The temptation to sit down at the brand new, green felt Blackjack table — that hadn't yet seen a single spilled drink or a frustrated gambler's pounding fist — subsided quickly for two reasons: The “How to Play Blackjack" pamphlet to the left of the table, which alerted me to the fact that most of the people I would play with here would not be experts of the game (something that has cost me money in the past), and … the dealer was not yet on duty.
But I must say, the place looked very clean, very professional and, unfortunately for me and the locals of St. Lucia who are inexperienced in table games, very inviting.
The casino also has a handful of $1 minimum Blackjack tables, meaning you can gamble for hours without losing too much dough. I spoke to Jeff Prusinowski, vice president of gaming operations for Treasure Bay Casino and Hotel, about the casino. Prusinowski's company is based in Biloxi, Mississippi, and owns and manages several casinos in the Caribbean, in locations such as The Bahamas, Aruba and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Thirty-six nationals and 10 to 15 ex-pats work at the casino, all of whom went through 10 weeks of training prior to the opening, according to Prusinowski. Locals are allowed to gamble. Locals, as well as tourists, need to become a member of the casino in order to wager. To become a member, all you have to do is present your I.D. and sign a form.
I’ve been hearing about the possibility of St. Lucia opening a casino for some time now, but I honestly never thought the government would allow it. Prusinowski said the plan to open this casino first sprouted in 2004.
“I always say the Ministry of Tourism should be called the Ministry of Experience,” said Sen. Allen Chastanet, minister of tourism and civil aviation in St. Lucia, “because tourism is really about your experiences and adding a casino is just another way we can tailor visitors’ experience of St. Lucia. It’s just one more thing we can give them.”
October 22, 2010
Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments: October 18-22
Sometimes, the Weekly Wrap is filled to the brim with a seemingly countless amount of comments made by readers and agents. The same can't be said for this week, as only four articles since last Friday have received comments. But I'm not complaining. After all, as the saying goes, it's all about quality and not quantity. So let's take a look.
Someone Sticks Up (Sort of) for Sheehan
Kevin Sheehan, the CEO for Norwegian Cruise Line, has come under fire at times here at TravelAgentCentral.com. In fact, as far back as July 2009, there have been four instances in which readers have posted comments either directed at the CEO or his company (see for yourself: July 2, 2009; May 21, 2010; July 9, 2010; October 1, 2010). But this week is different, as a reader named iimmie notes that how he/she handled her dilemma with the cruise line may have initiated a response others may have sought. Commenting on the announcement of Sheehan becoming the cruise line's CEO, hHe/she wrote:
I had an issue on a cruise and sent off a letter to everyone on the mission statement in January, By February I had a $200 credit for an upcoming cruise and a very nice apology. Use some ingenuity and you can reach people at the top.
Nice to see that nice words bring results. Hopefully, readers with similar problems with the line will take a lesson from this.
When it was announced that Rio de Janeiro would be the host city for the 2016 summer olympics, Travel Agent immediately profiled the destination for our readers. As interest in the city continues to rise among agents, some shared their praise of the location as others are seeking some feedback.
For starters, Thomas Johnson shared a resource to agents that has apparently been valuable to him. He posted:
Good, informative article! I just thought I would add that in addition to the hotel scene, a lot of clients have been interested in luxury apartment rentals.I've used www.HolidaysInRio.com many times because there is no other agency offering the level of luxury these guys can offer. Check out the Ipanema penthouse with private infinity pool, featured in AD magazine, for example. Perfect for entertaining in olympic porportions!
Meanwhile, Mae Young is ready to start selling the destination, but is looking for some help, writing:
good story. I am a travel agent interested in selling Brazil, who can I contact? I plan on visiting Brazil in January or February 2011.
Hopefully, some fellow agents will share their contacts with Mae by posting a comment below or at the original article. But until then, I suggest she visit Brazil's tourism portal at www.embratur.gov.br/site/en/home/index.php.
St. Kitts: Agent-Friendly?
A highly-read story at TravelAgentCentral.com as of late was Joe Pike's coverage of the island of St. Kitts seeking to get agents more involved in selling the destination. Sounds exciting, right? One agent thinks otherwise, as P Jones states:
Not seeing a travel agent friendly website when linked onto address referenced in article. No where on site did I find the words travel agent or travel partners. Possibly the reason for 80% of the booking being made online is that St. Kitts makes no reference to the travel agent community which has tried to promote travel to this island through CTO chapters, etc. Also, I saw no reference in Minister Skerritt's suggested outreach to travel agents on how the islands plans to make this happen.
Hopefully, there's no specific language or content about agents just yet because the island's push to engage agents is relatively new. But St. Kitts isn't alone when it comes to coming under fire for its lack-thereof leveraging of agents. In fact, back in the August 27, 2010 Weekly Wrap, one agent commented on how St. Lucia appears to be working more with online travel agencies instead of traditional agents (check out the original story here). Can anyone else share their take on whether either or both of these islands are making a significant effort to involve travel agents?
Agents Win with Awesome Websites
We're always keeping in touch with technology companies to learn about what agents can do to keep their business strong among the heavy competition brought on by online travel sites. So, when George Dooley penned an exclusive interview with Brian Tan, CEO and founder of Zicasso.com, we were happy to see so many readers chime in so quickly. Not only were agents excited, but so was Tan himself, commenting:
Stay tuned, folks...there'll be a Part 2 to this story in which I'll be sharing some practical steps and nuts and bolts on how to get a great travel agent website built, affordably.
Meanwhile, here's what fellow agents had to say about the article and its content:
Dora Theiss wrote:
Great article on website advice for travel consultants. Blogging and other social media are other elements to provide relevant information to your clients linked to your website. Consistency is the key when using twitter, blogging, and facebook.
James Wang shared:
This article is just fantastic! I have learned a lot from it. I am looking forward to read your second part of it. Thank you!
Janet Engel added:
thank you so much for this article-- Great information and agree 100%. There are no shortcuts anymore. Retail agents that want to remain viable and relevant MUST strengthen their online identity, starting with their website, and then expanding out and embracing all of the amazing social media tools that, yes their clients are already using! Agents must also demonstrate not only familiarity, but expertise in these arenas also!
You all have me highly anticipating part two now, as well. Let's just hope it doesn't follow the traditional Hollywood path of the sequels never matching the quality of the first film.
That's it for this week. Of course, I wish there was more to share but that depends on you, fellow readers. So keep the comments coming. Post one below or at any of the original articles. Don't forget to share your thoughts with us elsewhere, whether it's by writing us at our Facebook page or sending a tweet to our Twitter page. You can also join in real time discussions, and start your own, at AgentNation, the only social community online for all kinds of travel agents.
By: Kirk Cassels
August 27, 2010
Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments: August 23-27
Two weeks ago, I signed off on the Weekly Wrap for August 9-13 noting that I'd be away on August 20 and hoped the comments would keep pouring in. Needless to say, I was not disappointed. Not only did our readers continue the discussion on two then-breaking news items, but new topics of conversation emerged— one of which even inspired comments from John Peters, CEO of Tripology. Let's take a look.
The Ongoing Battle Between Humans & Machines
Peters was the first to comment on an Amadeus report that technology can help agents win the battle for consumers, saying:
Online consumers are time starved and don’t have time for either complicated booking engines or all the useless, generic travel information. Consumers don't want travel agent generalists though - they want a travel professional who specializes in the very trip they’re looking to take. They want someone who has recently been to the destination, who has local contacts and has first-hand experience. They don’t want “I can book anything for anyone.” The days of the travel generalist are numbered. I say, “Specialize or die!” By the way, “cruises” isn’t a specialty any more than “hotels” is. So, if you are a professional travel agent who specializes in either a destination or trip type, you might do very well with Tripology. If you don’t yet have a destination or trip type specialty; get one – fast. I define a specialist as someone who sells a destination or type of travel for which A) they’re an expert B) they enjoy selling and C) make a profit when they do sell.
Jagdeep Bhagat concurred, posting
Human beings are best served by human beings and not the machines. Being Travel Agent (Travel Consultant is a better name) in today's market is a tough job but results can be excellent if online technology is used by travel consultants for better delivery of service and an effective medium of communication rather than letting customer navigate online agencies and search engines for travel products.
Harry Schneider shared his experiences as well, commenting:
We frequently hear horror stories of people booking over the net without realizing all the little and big pitfalls that rather often materialize. In some cases we can help in other cases we cannot. An educated goodwilled agent is worth a lot .Lets get this out to the public.
On the same topic, but featured on a different story, Beth shares her two cents on Ruthanne Terrero's top 10 reasons to use a travel agent, stating:
too true! I hear horror stories all the time from those who "did it themselves". Sometimes, even if you think you're saving up front, you'll pay twice or three times for that savings later. Always use a professional
While it's good to read that consumers are not relying fully on the Internet to book their travel plans, I hope agents are taking note of Peters', and others', comments that speciality and knowledge are key. Show what you've got, but make sure you know what you've got.
Meanwile, there appears to be confusion over at St. Lucia as to whether it's human agents or online travel agencies (OTAs) bringing them all the business. After reading Joe Pike's report on the island's travel road show series, Laura points out an apparent contradiction, posting:
It's interesting that the tourist board would credit agents for their growth, given the fact that they only promote Expedia on their site.
I just checked www.stlucianow.com, the website cited in the story, and I don't see any mention of Expedia. I do, however, see several places where agents can log in to find promotions. Am I missing something?
Two New Comments on Two Big Stories
The biggest stories in the last edition of the Weekly Wrap were that of ME Cancun becoming an all-inclusive property that will offer amenities and access to non-guests and Unique Vacations' decision to terminate its wholesaler agreement with Apple Vacations.
As for the situation involving Unique Vacations and Apple Vacations, Teddi joined the fray, falling in line with other commentators speaking out about Sandals. He posted:
It is about time that Sandals finally discovered that they are not the only game in Jamaica... The Ultra All inclusive just does not give the experiences that our clients expect. Secrets is a great addition to the Hotels in Jamaica. Hopefully Sandals will step up to the task and improve their resorts to reflect the advertising they spend millions on.. Competition is great for everyone
I agree that healthy competition is in the best interest of the industry, including its employees, suppliers and consumers. Hopefully this scenario will accentuate that theory and will not get wrapped up in politics or useless bickering.
Responding to the first comment on the topic of ME Cancun, Nikki wrote:
This is an amazing property and I think this change is exciting. Karen I think the article is poorly written regarding non-guest because I'm assuming it's going to be like any other all-inclusive where non-guest can enjoy the aminities but at a daily fee of usually around $80 per person per day.
Nikki, in regards to your comment of it being poorly written, all I can tell you is we did the best with the information we found. As of now, there are no details about a daily fee or how the property will operate the non-guest policy. If you know (not hypothesize) something we don't, please share and we'll definitely add in the interest of keeping our readers informed.
Speaking of Extra Information
We always encourage our readers and users to share their knowledge on a story, particularly if it adds depth to the information. It appears we are on the cusp of such a situation when it comes to the news that
eTravCo is re-organizing. susan white shared:
Not anywhere in this article does it mention that travel agencies received letters from an attorney telling us it would be usless to go after Etravco and try to get the commissions they owe us. I have the letter and would be happy to foward it you.
Susan, I'll check in with George Dooley about the information of the story, since he wrote it. In the meantime, feel free to e-mail me the letter at email@example.com and I'd be happy to take a look. Sounds like important and useful stuff.
Equal Opportunity to Make Sales
The politics involved in marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples will, seemingly, never go away and, in my opinion, it's best to ignore all the hubub over it. But that doesn't mean that the gay and lesbian travel market should be ignored. Jacqueline Johnson recently addressed this topic with agents and it already received a response from Val, who commented:
Of course,we cannot ignore this market. That's exactly why we decided to spent almost a year to create specific travel guide (Gayjin) for gay audience (for those with iPhones or iPod Touch). While initially it was slow business, today we see that it is a promising market and people are eager to spent they money on quality products (if fact more than average straight person).
While I normally don't enjoy posting comments that are promoting a business, I'm taking an exception here because it directly relates to the issue discussed and could aid agents in profiting from this lucrative market. The info can be found at http://gayjin.info. Check it out, and let me know if it makes an impact on your ability to sell.
As always, the conversation doesn't end here. Keep the comments coming. Post one below or at any of the cited articles (among hundreds of others here at www.travelagentcentral.com). Write us at our Facebook page (where a comment regarding Tropicana Las Vegas has inspired us to investigate the property's relationship with travel agents). Send a tweet to our Twitter page (where Henry Harteveldt, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, commented on our query if 2010 is truly a year of recovery or just a year that's better than 2009). You can always join discussions in real time at AgentNation, the only social community online for all kinds of travel agents.
If you share something intriguing, we'll feature it in upcoming stories, like we did when writing about the most outrageous requests clients have made to their agent.
Until next week...
By: Kirk Cassels
October 03, 2008
Looking Ahead to CHTA Marketplace
Whereas it’s unfortunate that St. Kitts is the first Caribbean tourism destination to host an event following the failed bill to bail out Wall Street, St. Lucia is hoping its old news by January. That’s when the destination will be hosting the annual Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association's (CHTA) Marketplace. And so far the numbers indicate, like the Small Hotels Retreat, that the conference’s attendance won’t be affected.
We sat down with Angela Alphonse, project manager for the St. Lucia Hotel & Tourism Association, who told us about 1,500 delegates are already on board for the event. “Right now, September, is when this whole mess is really at its highest,” Alphonse told us. “We’re hoping it will be a dead issue by January. I think we can get our focus back on strengthening tourism in St. Lucia and the Caribbean and not worrying about losing tourism in St. Lucia and the Caribbean.”