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The New Caribbean

October 16, 2006 By: Ruthanne Terrero Travel Agent

Travel Agent and Bon Appetit
magazines recently hosted a Caribbean editorial roundtable in
Bon Appetit's
dining room in New York.
On hand for the event were Ruthanne Terrero, editorial director of the Travel
Agent Media Group, who moderated the event; Kerry Cannon, group publisher of
the Travel Agent Media Group; Mark Cooper, travel director,
Bon Appetit;
Susan Black of;
Jack Bloch of JB's World Travel Consultants; Marcia Bullock, representing
the Jamaica Tourist Board; Elizabeth Crabill of Travel Impressions; Jaap Ellis
of the Aruba Tourism Authority; David Lyon, with Anguilla's Cuisinart Hotel and
Spa; Elaine Pesky of Protravel; Rabia Shahenshah of Tzell Travel; and Kimberly
Wilson Wetty, with Valerie Wilson Travel.

A broad range of
topics was covered—such issues as how travel agents can encourage clients who
may have once sampled the Caribbean on spring break to return as more upscale
travelers, and whether or not an island's culture has an impact on one's
decision to travel to a specific Caribbean
destination. We also discussed how agents can work through the "keeping
up" syndrome.

 Ruthanne Terrero (center) with Jack Bloch and Rabia Shahenshah

Ruthanne Terrero, Travel Agent Media: A survey we
conducted recently showed that 83 percent of the agents responding felt that a Caribbean island's cultural attractions are important to
their recommendations. Do you agree, or is it all about sun and fun?

Kimberly Wilson Wetty, Valerie Wilson Travel: Culture
is not the primary factor for someone going to the Caribbean,
so if that is your sales pitch, you're setting yourself up to fail. It can be a
supplement once you close the sale to get them excited about the things they
can do while they are there, but it is not one of the first things you bring

Rabia Shahenshah, Tzell Travel: A client from a major
market like Boston or New
would go to the Caribbean in
the dead of winter because it's accessible. Airfares during that time are
relatively high. If they are really interested in culture and the price points
are the same, they could go to Paris.

Jack Bloch, JB's World Travel Consultants: In the
Carib-bean, you go to a resort to veg out. When clients ask if there is
something else to do, they don't mean culture. They want to know if there is a
disco or nightlife.

Kerry Cannon and Marcia Bullock

Mark Cooper, Bon Appetit: But isn't that more
of a function of marketing of the Caribbean?
Some islands do invest dollars into the cultural side of it.

Bloch: People visualize the Caribbean as an island,
even though Jamaica
is the only one that is considered a country over an island. So it's a little

Marcia Bullock, Jamaica Tourist Board: Many of us from the Caribbean struggle with that fact. We know our main
attraction is sun, sand and sea...but we are a people with a strong culture.
Our heritage, our food, our music is what we think of ourselves in terms of
having a culture. Most [visitors] are surprised when see all that there is. And
we hear, "Oh, my travel agent didn't tell me that there is all of
this—that you can go to the south coast for a swamp safari and you can go to
the Blue Mountains to pick coffee."

Elizabeth Crabill, Travel Impressions: I believe
there is an opportunity for destinations within the Caribbean,
because each island has a different culture. If you have a repeat customer who
would like to try something else, you can take an island's culture or cuisine
and use it to move that customer.

Jaap Ellis, Aruba Tourism Authority: In Aruba, more and more we see that people are more
adventurous; they want to see more traditional island things like indigenous
food offered on the menus in restaurants, they want to go sightseeing in the
museums and experience activities on the island.

Kimberly Wilson Wetty and Elaine Pesky

Susan Black, This year we've seen different islands
introduce indigenous or other types of cultural activities in the shoulder or
soft seasons, such as music festivals. When it's hurricane season, they are
trying to think of ways to distinguish themselves.

David Lyon, Cuisinart Hotel and Spa: Islands such as Anguilla cater primarily to the luxury client. We do host
the Anguilla Jazz Festival and the Yacht Regatta, but we don't bring as many
people in for those activities.

Elaine Pesky, Protravel: People have different needs,
and the main thing is you have to listen to what your client wants.

Terrero: What happens when a client calls and says,
"I want to go somewhere, where do I go?" How do you handle that?

Shahenshah: You listen, but you also have a sixth
sense. I would say within the first 30 seconds you get a sense of them,
especially when they start to say where they have been in the past. A lot of
these clients are very busy and they really go to unwind, so to them, cultural
activities are less important.

Cooper: From an agent's standpoint, how often does
someone come in with a very specific idea of where they want to go?

Elizabeth Crabill (left) and Japp Ellis

Wetty: Many times a client will say, "I've just
spoken to a friend and this is where I have to go," or they've seen an ad
or read an article, but then you start to talk to them and you're like,
"This is so not the right place for you." But that is why they are
going through a travel consultant for advice.

Terrero: Do you find that people are coming to you
confused because they have so much information?

Pesky: They want us to sort it out. They have too
much information.

Bloch: I see that in the future our services will
become more valuable than they had in the past. In the old days, we were
valuable because there was no information. Now we are valuable because there is
too much information.

Cooper: People have often done their research and
they are coming in with a lot of knowledge from the Internet.

Wetty: That's true, especially on the high end in the
luxury market. But we have to decide if we are talking about the ultra-luxury
market, the luxury market or more of the premium market, because a lot of the Caribbean is premium.

From left, Mark Cooper and Susan Black

Bloch: Fifteen years ago there wasn't anywhere near
the high-end product in the Caribbean that
there is today. Today there's a whole group of people [for whom] money is not an
issue—it's that "my friend went there, so I have to get there."

Shahenshah: I have a client who is a Four Seasons
junkie, so when the Four Seasons, Costa Rica opened, I suggested he
might want to go there. Instead, he said, "Why would I want to go there,
there are just lots of trees and snakes and jungle?" A year later he
called me up after everyone in his town had been there and said, "You have
to get me into the Four Seasons, Costa Rica." It's the
"keeping-up game."

Black: We have found that the luxury market wants to
get things for less. We did a survey a year ago of 3,000 of our customers and
found that their greatest fear of traveling to the Caribbean
wasn't hurricanes or safety issues, it was of overpaying, of sitting at a
luxury resort and knowing that the guy next to them paid less.

Shahenshah: What they want to know more is if I have
a relationship with the hotel itself, with the GM, and if I can get them
connecting rooms that face the ocean. Are my special requests being met? What
is the relationship between me and the vendor that they can't get on their own?

Terrero: Let's throw it back to the demographics. Is
there a chance to take the spring breaker and bring them back to the Caribbean at a higher price point for a grown-up

Bloch: They want to do short trips, they won't do
long trips. That market is strictly a quick getaway to the beaches, but
definitely high end.

David Lyon of Cusinart Hotel and Spa

Crabill: If you are talking about getting the spring
breaker to jump to another level, there is a 10- to 20-year gap until they are
able to go to a five-star property. But that creates a huge opportunity,
especially with the changes that are taking place in all-inclusives, which are
responding to the needs of repeat customers.

Pesky: That group also wants to know what they are
paying for, so the all inclusives are ideal for them.

Terrero: Is the middle-tier traveler coming to you?

Pesky: I have a lot of generational groups,
grandparents, parents and children. They are going to Paradisus.

Shahenshah: Some of my clients as a couple will do a
Four Seasons, but they feel it's wasted on their children. So maybe they'll go
to the Fairmont Mayakoba, which is the perfect four star; it's a chain, but
it's right in the middle.

Terrero: What about Generation X, is there a change
in how they are traveling?

Wetty: Absolutely. A lot of them grew up traveling
and they went to four- and five-star properties, so they have really high
expectations of what the service should be. Their kids are going to be the same

Black: In the premium market, especially the Spanish
hoteliers, are really coming up with products for families. They have done
their homework...traditional suppliers have to pay attention.

Lyon: I don't think we are
the exception, but [at Cuisinart] we have a bit of a different twist on family
travel...we want to limit the number [of kids], so that the children and
parents enjoy it. We don't have a kids' camp, but we want to make sure our
beach staff knows how to deal with the children. We have two restaurants on the
property, and the fine dining restaurant will restrict children under a certain
age. It's a fine balance.

Terrero: In Aruba and Jamaica, are resorts being built to
accommodate families?

Bullock: Yes, for us the new properties are primarily
the Spanish hoteliers and the latest one, the Rio
in Ocho Rios has what they call the "quiet side" of the resort, and
the main side is more for families.

Ellis: On Aruba, the
smaller resorts say that children are welcome but we have resorts on the other end,
one has a lazy river that is huge and that is so good for families.

Bullock: It goes back to knowing who your client is.
On Jamaica,
we have some resorts that take only kids above age 16 and then others that
seemingly take only kids, so it is all about knowing your client.

Terrero: How do you capture the cruise passenger that
visits a number of destinations? How do you get them to take a land-based

Bullock: The idea is to tell them that there is no
way to you can experience a destination by arriving there at 8 a.m. and leaving
at 5 p.m. If you've been on a cruise and gone to 15 different islands, you
haven't been to the Caribbean; you've been on
a cruise. We try to educate them...we try to sell them a land-based experience,
which is much different from a cruise.

Wetty: When I have a client going on a Caribbean cruise, I try to make a recommendation of what
they should do for a shore event, rather than doing something that the ship is
offering. I'll try to work with a certain property to see if they can they go
there for lunch or use their beach. It's a wonderful way for them to sample the
different islands and that makes it easier to say would you like to go back.

Bullock: In Jamaica, we...recommend an activity
to a client; a specific tour.

Terrero: We did some research that showed agents are
overwhelmingly aware that their clients will need a passport for Caribbean travel as of January 2007. Agree or disagree?

Shahenshah: It's a good thing. Who wants to stand
behind the person who whips out the birth certificate? It takes forever. [Also,
if a client] who has not been anywhere for X number of years because they
didn't have a passport gets one now they feel they can go to Paris. The obstacle is now taken away.

Bloch: It's a situation that is a long time coming in
this country. Only five percent of the population has a passport. In Europe, everyone has a passport.

Bullock: We have launched some initiatives on our
own; we have direct linkage from our web site to the U.S. passport office where you can
download the forms.

Black: This is a situation in which adversity binds
the Caribbean together. We are getting
questions from different islands, asking, "What is your company doing to
offset the cost of the issue?"

Crabill: It is absolutely a concern. Eventually
[people will get passports], but for now they won't need one for Mexico, so why
not try Cancun or why not go to Disney World or somewhere domestic? The thing
is that passports now are more expensive than if they had gotten one five years

Terrero: Our research shows that agents were evenly
split on whether clients were interested in Cuba. Are you being asked about Cuba?

All: Yes!

Bullock: There are some very fine hotels there. It's
going to be a huge destination.

What do you think of this $type?

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