Dominica Targeting Active Luxury Travelers as Hotel Options Expand

Dominica, an island in the Caribbean with a population of just over 70,000 spread across 290 square miles, has long been an under-the-radar destination but it has plenty going on that should bring the spotlight more clearly onto itself.

Travel Agent recently spoke with Colin Piper, CEO of Discover Dominica Authority, to get the latest on everything from the island. The highlight: In December 2021, American Airlines launched the first direct flight to Dominica from the United States, out of Miami, which eventually made its way to a daily route. This connection to 42 cities in North America has made the flight responsible for 68 percent of all U.S. visitors to the island. It’s quickly made its mark, according to Piper.

The government is in talks with American to double up its flights on certain days but airline growth has to be strategic, Piper says. In addition, Delta, JetBlue and United Airlines all have a codeshare agreement with Silver Airways, which connects to Dominica through San Juan, Puerto Rico. Flights are generally 80 to 90 percent full, according to Piper.

On the hotel front, there is plenty to share. Kempinski’s recently opened hotel—the Cabrits Resort & Spa Kempinski—is the largest on the island at 151 guestrooms and suites. It marked Kempinski’s second Caribbean resort, following Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana in Cuba, when it opened in 2019. Guests can expect flat-screen televisions, Wi-Fi service and in-room espresso machines. The resort’s signature restaurant, Cabrits Market, provides an ambiance of vibrant colors and flavors meant to be indicative of a Creole market.

Two other international brands are set to debut on the island: Marriott International and Hilton Hotels.

Anichi Resort and Spa, part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, will have 128 rooms, a lagoon-style swimming pool and a variety of restaurants upon opening in 2024. Opening the same year with 100 rooms will be Tranquility Beach Resort – Curio Collection by Hilton. Set on an “undiscovered coastal location,” the hotel will have two secret cove beaches on both sides of the property; there will also be cliff-hanging villas that are built directly into the rock.

Beyond these, plenty of smaller, local hotels have been updating themselves. Jungle Bay was reconstructed and renovated after the recent major hurricanes. Located on the southwest of the island, the wellness-oriented hotel has 89 rooms (including 64 villas). Good to know: The hotel offers various inclusive packages, such as those for adventure wellness, yoga and bootcamp retreats.

Fort Young Hotel & Dive Resort
Fort Young Hotel & Dive Resort (Photo by Fort Young Hotel & Dive Resort)

Fort Young Hotel & Dive Resort, which Piper calls “a virtual landmark in Dominica,” lost 30 rooms due to Hurricane Maria but is in the process of bringing those back online. This will likely be completed some time in 2023. Located the edge of Dominica’s capital, Roseau, it recently earned the Green Globe Certification, making the second property in Dominica to earn the accolade, following its sister property, Secret Bay. Following Hurricane Maria in 2017, Fort Young Hotel launched several property enhancements, including the addition of Jacko’s, a poolside bar; an expanded boardwalk with waterfront shops and Warner’s Bar; a relaunched Palisades Restaurant; and a new dive operation, Fort Young Dive, which runs daily dives departing directly from the hotel’s shores.

Secret Bay is planning to cap out at 42 villas, which will be completely, most likely, by 2025. Currently, the boutique eco-property has just 10 accommodations. It also recently built out its public spaces, including the reception area and restaurant, during the COVID-19 pandemic; it's currently continuing its villa expansion.

In its soft-opening phase right now is Coulibri Ridge. It has just 14 rooms and is a very eco-friendly resort. Built and operated by solar power, the resort generates on site all of its electrical needs through sustainable technologies. Guests can expect Studio and Duplex accommodations ranging from 930 to 1,550 square feet; further amenities include two swimming pools, two dining rooms, a spa, a yoga pavilion, a gym and more.

Coulibri Ridge
Coulibri Ridge (Photo by Coulibri Ridge)

As far as the island’s rebound from the pandemic, Piper says they are seeing progress. In 2019, there were 90,000 visitors to the island; in 2020, there were 23,000 and in 2021, just 15,000. When we spoke to Piper in July, 2022 figures had already passed 2020’s mark; by the end of the year, they are aiming to hit 50,000. So, while it’s still short of pre-COVID arrivals, Piper says the ramp up has to be intentional. First you must crawl, then walk, then run, he says.

By 2023, Piper hopes to reach 2019 arrival levels, then the destination will aim for growth in the following years—just as its larger hotels come online.

Many of the island’s smaller hotels focus on sustainability, something that plays well for luxury travelers. In fact, it’s these folks that Piper wants to bring to Dominica. The adventurous type are also perfect for the destination.

According to Piper, the top draws for the island are its 300-plus miles of hiking trails, nine active volcanoes, its resident sperm whale population, the dive sites (perfect for snorkeling or scuba diving), as well as its waterfalls. As Piper says, “it’s not a fly-and-flop destination.” To get the fullest experience, you need to leave the resort and take in the island’s natural features.

Beyond the active options, Dominica is home to the largest population of indigenous people in the Caribbean. Each year, the island hosts its World Creole Music Festival in October (slated for the 28th through 30th this year).

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