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Caribbean 2009: The Year in ReviewDecember 24, 2009 By: Joe Pike Travel Agent
The U.S may soon lift travel curbs to the Cuba, which would give a lift to resorts such as the Mélia Cohiba
In a bleak year when many of its hotels and islands took a few hits on the chin, it was the positive industry news from the Caribbean that took people by surprise. And the surprises kept coming.
Trying times were fought off by some smart decisions by hotel chains and brave moves by airlines. And they were rewarded with travel to Cuba becoming more of a reality.
Here’s Travel Agent’s look back at the biggest stories to emerge from the region in 2009—and what to watch for in 2010:
Cuba May Open Up Soon
News of Cuba has surfaced almost every week since President Obama won the November 2008 elections, but, perhaps, the biggest news came in October 2009 when it was reported that a campaign to allow all Americans to travel to Cuba was gathering steam in Congress.
In fact, both backers and opponents were predicting “eventual victory,” which would have a profound impact on U.S.-Cuba relations, unleashing an estimated 1 million American tourists to visit the island.
Backing the change was the U.S. travel industry—Orbitz, for one, says it has 100,000 signatures on a petition—as well as dozens of newspaper editorials, large agricultural companies, former Secretary of State George Shultz, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and groups that have traditionally opposed U.S. sanctions on the island.
The Comeback in the Sky
In 2008, the Caribbean, mainly Puerto Rico, took a huge hit with American Airlines and other major carriers withdrawing significant flights to the Caribbean. How did the region respond in an economy-stricken 2009?
Just three months into the year, American Eagle announced new daily service between its hub in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Fort-de-France, the capital of Martinique; American Airlines announced the expansion of service to the British Virgin Islands from San Juan, and LIAT announced the opening of two new routes between Grenada and Barbados and Canouan in The Grenadines.
But the flurry of new flights didn’t end there. In April, Air Jamaica announced more flights from New York. In July, US Airways’ plans for more nonstop flights to Barbados from its Philadelphia hub were made public. As of last month, US Airways has daily service for the winter season. The Mustique Company forged a partnership in July with Grenadine Airways to provide direct flights in and out of Mustique, exclusively for villa owners and guests on the island.
In September, US Airways committed to launching weekly nonstop service from Boston’s Logan International Airport to St. Thomas’ Cyril E. King Airport from December through April 23. Around the same time, Delta Air Lines announced new nonstop services to the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport in St. Croix in addition to the Cyril E. King Airport in St. Thomas. As of November 19, American Airlines began twice-daily service to Curacao from Miami International Airport.
In December, a new local airline company, FlyMontserrat, announced daily roundtrip flights from Montserrat to Antigua. Delta service between Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and Tobago’s Crown Point International Airport began again on December 19. A new LIAT connection from San Juan to Canouan Island in The Grenadines was added at the end of the year, making it easier to get to The Grenadines from major U.S. feeder cities.
But perhaps the greatest flight news came to an island that needed it the most. JetBlue Airways began its new flights to St. Lucia in late October with nonstop service to the island’s Hewanorra International Airport from the airline’s home at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. JetBlue’s 150-seat Airbus A320 aircraft now serves the island with nonstop flights every Monday, Thursday and Sunday.
Onward connections to and from other U.S. cities are also available.
A bedroom in SuperClubs’ Breezes Grand Resort & Spa in Negril, Jamaica
The SuperClubs Rebranding
In one of the biggest—and smartest—moves seen last year, SuperClubs Resorts, after more than 30 years in operation, went through a major transformation on November 1, eliminating two of its brands and making each of its resorts a four-star, boutique-style hotel.In all, there are now three brands: Breezes Resorts & Spas, Hedonism Resorts and Rooms On The Beach.
By opting to market itself as a four-star, middle-priced brand, the company found a smart way to combat the influx of the Spanish all-inclusives that have taken the Caribbean (particularly Jamaica) and Latin America by storm in the last few years.
Sandals’ 1-2 Combination
Sandals Resorts International officially stole the 2009 Caribbean show with two deals in the second half of the year. The first blockbuster deal came in August when Sandals purchased the shuttered Four Seasons Resort Great Exuma at Emerald Bay. The new Sandals Emerald Bay, Great Exuma, Bahamas, is set to reopen this month after getting a Sandals makeover.
In October, we realized Sandals wasn’t done yet. It partnered with Martha Stewart LivingOmnimedia (MSLO) and introduced Sandals Weddings by Martha Stewart . Sandals and Martha Stewart Weddings inked a four-year deal with a two-year, mutual option to extend.
Deals Save Region From Further Disaster
Sure, the economy hurt many islands with most reporting anywhere from a 12 to 20 percent drop in arrivals from the year before. Now, imagine what this could have meant if the Caribbean hadn’t played as smart as it did in 2009. Because of the excellent marketing strategies and terrific deals that seemed to pop out of every island and every resort on a daily basis, we’d even venture to say the Caribbean possibly had many new visitors this year. And it was courtesy of the free nights and value-added deals that were too good to pass up. Now, it’s up to the industry to hold on to these new fans of the region through some smart marketing in 2010.
Overcoming Mother Nature
There were a host of hurricanes that threatened the islands in 2009, with the two strongest threats coming in August in the form of Hurricane Bill and Hurricane Ana.
The damage from Hurricane Ana was limited to heavy rains and some flooding in Puerto Rico. The National Weather Service first reported that the tropical storm was to hit most of the U.S. Virgin Islands as well as Puerto Rico. The storm, however, moved too fast through the U.S. Virgin Islands to cause a significant impact. Resulting heavy rains lashed the eastern third of Puerto Rico, causing some flooding but no serious damage.
Also in August, the once-threatening Hurricane Bill weakened slightly to a Category 3 storm and caused little damage to the region.
Sandals inked a deal with Martha Stewart Weddings last year for guests seeking destination weddings