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The Top Travel Stories of 2014: The CaribbeanJanuary 8, 2015 By: Joe Pike
Before December 17, it had already been one of the most active years for game-changing Caribbean tourism news from the anticipated opening of Baha Mar, which is expected to create a destination within a destination in The Bahamas, to Puerto Rico's continued growth in the luxury segment.
Then two weeks before the year ended, Caribbean specialists and tourism representatives got the news they’ve been waiting for since Fidel Castro stepped down as president of Cuba in 2008: The U.S and Cuba will soon restore diplomatic relations.
Travel Agent recaps these stories and breaks down their impact for Caribbean specialists with hopes of putting more money in your pocket in 2015.
Here’s to a healthy, happy and lucrative year.
United States, Cuba to Restore Diplomatic Relations, Ease Travel Restrictions
It was announced on December 17 that the United States will restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba and open an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than 50 years.
While the more liberal travel restrictions won't allow for tourism, they will permit greater American travel to the island. It is worth noting that Wednesday's announcement comes just months ahead of the March 2015 Summit of the Americas, in which Cuba is set to participate for the first time.
However, according to Reuters, a senior congressional aide said Obama would ease the embargo and travel restrictions that prevent most Americans from visiting the island.
When the embargo is fully lifted and U.S. clients can travel freely to the once forbidden island, we anticipate other warm weather destinations such as Mexico and other islands in the Caribbean to lose some business to Cuba. Cancun and the Dominican Republic are perhaps the two destinations that should be prepared to lose some business to Cuba simply because Cuba is the same distance of those other two destinations and there’s a solid chance most seasoned travelers have been to the Dominican Republic and Cancun before.
As for right now, however, we suggest booking clients on as many People to People tours as possible. The People to People tours, which licensed operators take clients to Cuba on experential-driven trips that explore the culture of the country, are arguably hotter than they ever have been before for the simple reason that clients don't just want to go to Cuba. They want to see Cuba how it is right now and not after it becomes overly commercialized.
Baha Mar Will Officially Open This Spring
Baha Mar, the new $3.5 billion resort in The Bahamas, will introduce a new era of luxury, glamour, gaming and excitement to The Bahamas when it begins hosting paid guests on March 27 at Baha Mar Casino & Hotel, Rosewood at Baha Mar and SLS LUX at Baha Mar. Grand Hyatt at Baha Mar will open shortly after.
Baha Mar will feature 2,200 luxury guest rooms across four hotels – Baha Mar Casino & Hotel, Rosewood at Baha Mar, Grand Hyatt at Baha Mar and SLS LUX at Baha Mar – along with the Caribbean’s largest casino, a 100,000-square-foot facility featuring a full array of the latest slots and table games. In addition, the resort's TPC at Baha Mar Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course, ESPA spa, pools, beach experiences and many restaurants and luxury shops will be part of the highly anticipated resort experience upon opening.
The debut of the Baha Mar resort development is easily the Caribbean’s most anticipated resort opening of 2015. After years of planning and several delays, the resort will most likely dominate bookings to The Bahamas, especially for younger couples, girls’ and guys’ getaways, honeymooners and clients getting married. Think of it as a sexier Atlantis. Whereas Atlantis targets the family market and older couples, Baha Mar is creating a swanky scene for younger, affluent travelers who love all things chic. We also anticipate The Bahamas getting some additional airlift due to the Baha Mar buzz.
AMResorts Aggressively Expanding
Earlier this month, AMResorts, an Apple Leisure Group subsidiary, officially opened its first property in the U.S. and 36th overall in the form of the new Dreams Sugar Bay St. Thomas.
The introduction of this new hotel for the Dreams Resorts & Spas brand marks another milestone for AMResorts, as the company enters a new territory.
AMResorts assumed operations of the 294-room Sugar Bay Resort & Spa on July 1, at which point the resort began renovations to bring the property to brand standards. The project included upgrading all guest rooms, with 100 rooms updated to Preferred Club level.
Dreams Sugar Bay St. Thomas is located in the U.S. Virgin Islands and there is no passport required for U.S. citizens’ entry.
We anticipate AMResorts making a big splash in 2015. The company is expanding to new destinations at a rapid pace, including its first venture into Central and South America.
AMResorts now has resort in the Caribben, Mexico and Central and South America. Although Hawaii tourism representatives are always telling Travel Agent not to expect an all-inclusive hotel in the Aloha State anytime soon, we have been hearing rumblings of an AMResorts expansion there for years.
In fact, back in 2008, Travel Agent spoke to AMResorts representatives who told us they were eyeing Costa Rica and Hawaii. This year, Costa Rica finally came to fruition. Could Hawaii be next?
Puerto Rico’s Big Year in Luxury
Following years of careful restoration and an investment of $200 million, the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel is once again welcoming guests for hotel stays in Puerto Rico.
This second stage of the hotel’s revival unveils elegant guest room and suite accommodations, a spa sanctuary with Puerto Rico’s first Hammam, two posh pool lounges with butler service and Ola, a second international restaurant helmed by chef Juan Jose Cuevas.
Built in 1919 by Frederick William Vanderbilt and originally designed by leading architectural firm Warren and Wetmore, whose work includes the New York Biltmore Hotel and Grand Central Station, the Vanderbilt was once an exclusive tropical vacation destination for royalty, heads of state, industry icons and Hollywood stars.
But perhaps Puerto Rico’s biggest news of 2014 came months before when Travel Agent sat down with several Puerto Rico tourism representatives and learned that the destination will be adding its first JW Marriott by 2016 and its first Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts property within two to three years, says Milton Segarra, president & CEO of Meet Puerto Rico.
Segarra told Travel Agent the destination's first-ever Four Seasons will be built on the East Coast of Puerto Rico, just 10-15 minutes away from El Conquistador, A Waldorf Astoria Resort.
Travel Agent first broke the news in 2012 that Puerto Rico had a deal in place for a Four Seasons, but those plans, which originally called for the completion of the hotel by the summer of 2014, didn't completely materialize.
Clarisa Jimenez, president and CEO of the Puerto Rico Hotel & Tourism Association, told Travel Agent that the destination will also be home to its first JW Marriott by 2016. The building will be right next door to the Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, a property that has seen an incredible amount of buzz from the agent community since it opened in 2012.
In less than 10 years, Puerto Rico has been transforming itself from a haven for budget-conscious family travelers into perhaps one of the hottest luxury islands for affluent travelers who enjoy a trendy, modern chic vibe in the Caribbean.
Although they had added pretty much every well-known luxury brand in recent years, there were still some gaping holes in completing a full offering of luxury hotels. But with the JW Marriott and the Four Seasons coming on board, Puerto Rico is now armed with just about every notable luxury brand.
The Condado Vanderbilt opening was just the icing on the cake. The project has been ongoing for several years now, but got delayed a few times over some financial matters. The fact that this historic hotel is reopening just in time for 2015 really gives Puerto Rico much-needed momentum to start the year.
Hyatt, Palace Resorts Expand to Jamaica
Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, in partnership with Playa Hotels & Resorts, officially entered the Caribbean all-inclusive market in November with the opening of the Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall and Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall in Montego Bay. The former Ritz-Carlton Rose Hall underwent an $83 million enhancement and expansion project.
The newest luxury all-inclusive offering from Palace Resorts, Moon Palace Jamaica Grande, is scheduled to open in February following a $50 million renovation of the former Sunset Jamaica Grande. The new hotel will have more than 700 rooms and suites with oceanfront views of the Caribbean Sea. The resort is set in Ocho Rios on the north coast of Jamaica, accessible from the Montego Bay airport.
Including Karisma Hotels & Resorts' expansion to Jamaica in December of 2013 in the form of the Azul Sensatori Jamaica , both Hyatt Hotels and Resorts and Palace Resorts now represent the second and third all-inclusives to expand to Jamaica in less than two years. What was already considered the best all-inclusive destination in the Caribbean, just got way better. The Dominican Republic, the other all-inclusive giant in the Caribbean, is constantly upgrading its product so Jamaica needs to make sure it stays fresh and competitive. And these two latest expansions help Jamaica achieve that goal.
Keep visiting www.travelagentcentral.com for all your latest Caribbean news.