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Caribbean Travel Preview for 2016

January 4, 2016 By: Joe Pike Travel Agent

Park Hyatt St Kitts is poised to open in 2016 on a secluded beach with dramatic vistas of the volcanic island of Nevis.
Park Hyatt St Kitts is poised to open in 2016 on a secluded beach with dramatic vistas of the volcanic island of Nevis.

Any look into the future of Caribbean tourism almost has to begin with the potential impact of Cuba’s re-emergence on the region. At the United States Tour Operators Association’s Annual Conference & Marketplace in Chicago, held between December 3 – 5, Cuba was cited as the top “emerging” and “off-the-beaten-path” destination set to gain popularity in 2016, and the once-forbidden island was the focal point of the November 15-17 Caribbean-Central American Action Conference in Miami.

Cuba Travel Services (via, Island Destinations and Cox & Kings have all announced new tours to Cuba for 2016, while Apple Vacations, with the 2016 departures of its two existing itineraries selling quickly, created a third one running once a month, February through October. Fathom, Carnival Corp.’s new social impact travel brand, will make its first sailing to Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba in May. And Cayman Airways Limited (CAL) recently initiated service between Cayman Brac and Holguin, Cuba.

The View From Jamaica

Paul Pennicook, Jamaica’s director of tourism, believes the opening up of Cuba to the United States as a tourist destination should provide numerous opportunities for the sector in Jamaica, adding that Jamaica has been competing with Cuba in a number of tourism markets, namely Latin America, Europe and Canada, for many years.

“We’re confident that as long as we continue to promote the diversity and strength of the Jamaican product we can compete with anyone. The opening up of Cuba to the U.S., we see it as more of an opportunity rather than a threat,” says Pennicook. “And so we intend as much as possible to do dual destination packages with them so instead of taking market share from us, we can both benefit from new visitors that will be coming to the region.”

With the 2015/2016 winter tourist season underway, Pennicook is anticipating positive growth this winter. This optimism comes on the heels of what he believes was a robust 2014/2015 season. According to statistics from the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), during the first nine months of this year the island recorded more than 1.6 million stopover arrivals, an increase of 2.4 percent over the same period in 2014.

As 2015 draws to a close, Pennicook is looking forward to 2016 with great optimism and is forecasting continued growth for the island’s tourism sector. Despite the challenges in the marketplace, Jamaica continues to hold its own in a very competitive environment. The tourism director attributes this success to the strength of Brand Jamaica.

Jamaica’s hotel sector has witnessed a significant boost in recent years with the destination attracting some of the world’s leading hotel brands. On December 2, Palace Resorts welcomed local media, dignitaries and government officials — including Prime Minister Portia Simpson — to experience the newly enhanced Moon Palace Jamaica Grande, which is having its first winter season. The former Sunset Jamaica Grande, was acquired by the Mexico-based Palace Resorts in September 2014. This is Palace Resorts’ first foray outside of Mexico.

Also new for this winter are the Courtyard by Marriott in Kingston and The Cliff Hotel and Spa (formerly Moon Dance Cliffs) in Negril. Both officially opened on December 1.

Watch Cayman Brac in 2016

While Grand Cayman tends to get most of the tourist attention in the Cayman Islands, lesser-known Cayman Brac should start creeping up on agents’ radar, as the island will welcome several notable hotel renovations in 2016.

Following a recently completed facelift, Brac Reef Beach Resort has reopened as the Cayman Brac Beach Resort, complete with a free-form pool, multi-level bar and upgraded accommodations.

In addition to the aforementioned service to Cuba, Cayman Airways Limited also launched nonstop weekly outbound service from Cayman Brac to Miami, aided by the expansion and renovation earlier this year of the Brac’s Charles Kirkconnell International Airport (CKIA), bringing the airport into compliance with international safety standards for nonstop flights into the U.S.

Aman Joy in the D.R.

Aman Resorts recently announced the launch of Amanera, which officially opened in the Dominican Republic on November 23. Perched on a clifftop overlooking Playa Grande beach, Amanera is surrounded by verdant jungle and framed by the island’s dramatic Cordillera Septentrional mountain range.

The resort is the first golf-integrated Aman, offering the Playa Grande Golf Course, which reportedly has the highest number of oceanside holes in the Western Hemisphere. The resort also offers extensive dining, spa and recreational facilities, and 25 Casitas each sporting a raw, organic design that complements the natural setting. At the heart of the resort lies “Casa Grande,” constructed in such a way that it appears to float above a three-tiered water feature and offers sweeping ocean, golf course and jungle views.

The USVI’s Water Island is working on plans to add its first hotel since 1989.
The USVI’s Water Island is working on plans to add its first hotel since 1989.

Big Plans for Water Island

Travel Agent sat down earlier this year with Beverly Nicholson-Doty, commissioner of tourism for the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), and chatted about plans to fully open little-known Water Island to tourism by adding its first hotel since 1989. She told us there have been several meetings with the isle’s roughly 200 residents to make sure the community has a say in the future of their island.

Doty said one of the main requests from residents is that the hotel will be environmentally friendly and that is something she said the government is also looking at as a top priority, adding that all of the proposed plans of interest are for hotels between 150-200 rooms.

The isle’s first guest accommodation, The Water Island Hotel, opened in 1953 and later became the Sea Cliff Resort before it was destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Water Island is actually the fourth official and most recently acquired island in the USVI.

More in the Offing

Barbados has reason to be optimistic about 2016, having gained recognition as 2015’s “Destination of the Year” in the Caribbean Journal’s recently announced Caribbean Travel Awards. The honor comes at a historic moment for Barbados, celebrating its 50th anniversary of independence in 2016. With the addition of new JetBlue routes from the Boston market and Mint service for the luxury set, the island continues to strengthen its connection to travelers in the U.S. market.

There’s been a lot of buzz about the anticipated 2016 opening of the luxury Park Hyatt St Kitts on a secluded beach with dramatic vistas of the volcanic island of Nevis. Resort highlights will include suites with rooftop pools overlooking the Caribbean and the Presidential Suite that will offer services of a private butler and a personal chef.

Virgin Limited Edition, Richard Branson’s collection of luxury retreats, recently announced that its newest addition, The Branson Estate on Moskito Island, British Virgin Islands, will be available for rental, beginning in early 2016. Set on 125 acres, it includes three villas, offering a total of 11 bedrooms for at least 22 guests, complemented by a Recreation Area where guests can enjoy a diverse range of activities and dining options.

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About the Author

Joe Pike
Joe Pike is Travel Agent's senior editor covering the Caribbean, Bahamas & Bermuda; Hawaii; Central & South America. Previously, Pike was a newspaper reporter for The Asbury Park...

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By Joe Pike | January 4, 2016
From Cuba's re-emergence as a major destination to new hotels in Cayman Brac, the Dominican Republic and the U.S. Virgin Islands, here are the Caribbean travel trends to watch for the coming year.