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The Caribbean: An Up-Close Island UpdateMarch 24, 2010 By: Joe Pike Travel Agent
Eusi Skeete, Lorine Charles-St. Jules, Marie Walker, John McMahon, Jacqueline Johnson, Paul Zar, Joe Pike, Leslie Rotkel, Ruthanne Terrero, Perla George, Anthony King
Everyone wants to know how the Caribbean will bounce back from a devastating 2009. Well, to answer that question and more, The Travel Group brought together a panel of experts in Caribbean travel to discuss some of the hottest topics in the region.
In attendance were Ruthanne Terrero, John McMahon and Joe Pike from The Travel Group; Leslie Rotkel, Leaders in Travel; Eusi Skeete, Barbados Tourism Authority; Lorine Charles-St. Jules, St. Lucia Tourist Board; Paul Zar, Travel Impressions; Jacqueline Johnson, Wedding Guru; Anthony King, Jamaica Tourist Board; Marie Walker, Anguilla Tourist Board; and Perla George, the British Virgin Islands Tourist Board.
Following are some of the highlights of that discussion.
Ruthanne Terrero, The Travel Group:
How has 2010 started for your destination or your tourism business?
Perla George, BVI Tourist Board: For the BVI, it started out pretty well for 2010 because on [almost] all Caribbean islands, it’s high season, the time we have most businesses doing well; this goes through June. So the BVI has that upswing right now as a winter market, especially the niche market; the niches very high on the list are sailing and diving.
Anthony King, Jamaica Tourist Board: We are looking good so far in the first quarter of 2010. A lot of it has to do with the fact that the U.S. market was down in the first quarter last year. We are seeing numbers in the U.S. exceed last year’s. We are getting big support from the Canadian market, which got us into a plus position last year and is getting even better now. Canada is still our growth market; U.S, the high-growth market; and the U.K. is now picking up, as British Airways increases flights; it is also due to the new charter programs.
Eusi Skeete, Barbados Tourist Board: Barbados has also seen a great start in 2010. Our fourth quarter last year was excellent, so we have some good momentum coming into this year. When you compare it with 2009, it looks great because last year wasn’t too good for destinations. However, when we go back to 2008 or 2007 and look at those figures, we find we are still in a strong position and it is turning out very well.
Marie Walker, Anguilla Tourist Board: Our last quarter was really good in terms of business from the U.S. and Canada. Our preliminary figures say we went up 15 percent in our last quarter. We attribute this to the opening of the Viceroy Anguilla, and the new golf course managed by Cap Juluca, which stayed open for the first time in its history over the fall, during September and October. We had lots of private jets landing; just over the Christmas period more than 222 private jets visited the island.
Ruthanne Terrero, The Travel Group:
How have things started for travel advisors?
Leslie Rotkel, Leaders in Travel: I would say the biggest news is that people are planning ahead. The booking window has widened. Last year, everything was done at the last minute. Starting in December or even as far back as October, people were planning vacations for the summer—which didn’t happen a year ago. People are planning early for their Christmas vacations in the Caribbean. So, I would say business is definitely on the upswing and people are more comfortable spending again. Honeymoons are recession-proof in the sense that they will go on, although couples may become more budget-conscious.
Joe Pike, The Travel Group:
What about length of stay? Are people booking longer vacations than they used to?
Leslie Rotkel, Leaders in Travel: Yes. In 2010, people are more comfortable spending again. It was only a matter of time before people felt the need to just get away, take a break from life and experience what a vacation can do to make you feel good again before you get back to the grind.
Anthony King, Jamaica Tourist Board: It’s interesting what Leslie just said about people booking long-term because what’s really happening in the Caribbean is that we are in an overbooked situation for the upcoming winter. I think people went through a burnout this winter by not booking a vacation. They have realized if they are going next year, they had better start thinking about it now.
Leslie Rotkel, Leaders in Travel: I still think it’s important as a travel agent, though, to be proactive and stay in touch with our regular clients; remind them what they did last year and ask if they want to start planning ahead for next year, to be on top of the game.
Lorine Charles-St. Jules, St. Lucia Tourist Board: I would like to echo that 2010 has been encouraging for us. We have our January statistics out already and we have seen double-digit growth not just for the U.S. markets but also Canada. The U.K. has not been as great as the U.S. and we attribute this to the economic condition. It hasn’t rebounded as much as the U.S.
Paul Zar, Travel Impressions: The first quarter of 2009 would hardly be a good benchmark. There isn’t such a thing as a normal year and even against better years we are on an upward trend. But the most significant aspect is the improvement in yields. We are seeing for the first time that room rates are up but room revenue is equal to or greater than, in many cases, the percentage increase in room rates. That’s brand new—at least in our current frame of reference. That applies pretty much across the board, so we are hoping yields will improve for hoteliers. We know the long-term implications of low yields with the decreased spending and deterioration of product and the downward spiral. So we are now starting to see that the positive trend is the improvement in yields, where also as Leslie indicated, advance bookings are looking much better; the summer is strong for us right now.
Anthony King with Perla George
John McMahon, The Travel Group:
Where are people going so far? What are some of the leading islands?
Paul Zar, Travel Impressions: Well, interestingly enough, Haiti has affected the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic and Jamaica did better than most destinations last year not only because they are wonderful destinations but were also helped along by the H1N1 and other troubles in Mexico. But Jamaica is doing extraordinarily well; St. Lucia is doing beautifully; and in Barbados, the numbers are off the charts. In the smaller islands, obviously, you won’t see as much volume but they are strong as well. Puerto Rico is beginning to show a better trend although it trails Jamaica, Barbados and St. Lucia, but there are some new products in the pipeline. But the big, big winners are still Barbados, Jamaica and St. Lucia—and not just because their reps are here in the room.
Ruthanne Terrero, The Travel Group:
It’s a nice coincidence. And Jacqueline, what’s going on in the weddings and honeymoons market?
Jacqueline Johnson, Wedding Guru: I have been especially following the bridal shows because now is the season when you get a feel of whether they are planning or not. But the turnout has been amazing across the board. And I keep tabs on almost all the shows going on in the country. I check with them what their numbers are, if they were sold out. Everybody is talking about complete sellout. I was at one of the Marriotts on Martin Luther King Day and you had couples up to the rafters—the event was really a sellout.
|Lorine Charles-St. Jules and Marie Walker|
The Forecast for 2010
Perla George, BVI Tourist Board: The opportunities for this year include a new 300-room hotel on Scrub Island with about three to four restaurants. We now have a huge meeting room like the BVI’s never had before.
Anthony King, Jamaica Tourist Board: Our focus has been development of attractions and activities outside the hotel. One of them is the casino, which is now being debated in the Parliament. But the whole idea of casinos is not to make Jamaica a casino destination. It has been planned in such a way that there will be a casino available within a resort area. So, you won’t see areas such as Montego Bay with three casinos. There may be one in Montego Bay and another in the Ocho Rios area as it develops.
Eusi Skeete, Barbados Tourist Board: There are many great opportunities for Barbados this year. Sports tourism is back and selling well. We will have three new polo developments this year. Golf will also be a huge opportunity. We have also hosted a major tennis championship, which has opened up a lot of opportunities. So, we are focusing a lot more on how to develop sports tourism this year. One of our key attractions will be the opening of Four Seasons. Everyone was worried about Four Seasons when the recession struck, but it’s definitely happening.
Marie Walker, Anguilla Tourist Board: The Viceroy is open. It belongs to California-based Kor Group.We are expecting a lot from them because the Kor Group is a big name in the U.S., where they have most of their properties, and the one in Anguilla is their first property overseas. So, that is quite an accomplishment. Kelly Wearstler, the designer, and her husband Brad Korzen, who owns the Kor Group, have created a very different, earthy kind of experience through the Viceroy.
Leslie Rotkel, Leaders in Travel: People are going back to the Caribbean again and I would say it’s even very high-end—or all-inclusive properties. Travelers either need value or an all-inclusive so that they can budget what they are doing.
|Paul Zar and Leslie Rotkel|
Paul Zar, Travel Impressions: First, at the corporate strategic and local levels, we will be taking over the worldwide operation of American Express Vacations. And just this morning, I saw an e-mail from the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism asking if we can help them with business out of Mexico to the Bahamas over Miami with their Companion Fly Free promotion. It’s a bit premature because we are not there yet. We have had meetings with them and we are very excited because it means American Express Vacations will begin to mass-market in the region for the first time. It blew our minds when we learned that American Express Vacations was only selling to Platinum and Centurion card-holders internationally. Green and Gold are pretty big. I thought that’s a major market and we will be marketing beyond the card holders. It’s a closed brand now; it will become an open brand.
Lorine Charles-St. Jules, St. Lucia Tourist Board: Last year, we launched the Live the Legend campaign, so our slogan is no longer Simply Beautiful, but we did have a false start. We didn’t really do much about the “Legend,” so we’ll try and tell people this year why we have chosen the new slogan. You will be seeing our new commercials titled Legendary Getaways, Legendary Romance, Legendary Adventure, and son.
Jacqueline Johnson, Wedding Guru: We unveiled a new and expanded version of my site on March 5, and the BVI was the featured destination. We have created a new portal for travel agents because we feel, and the numbers support, that the business of weddings, especially destination weddings, has been booked through travel agents. This will be a dedicated portal for travel agents and those who are in the booking business. We have had 980,000 visitors to our site to ask about the Caribbean. It’s not about the dresses, rings or the food. This is a pure audience all about the Caribbean.