We've reached the halfway point in 2019. Before you head into the latter half of the year, be sure you're on top of all the most important stories so far this year. Here are the biggest stories from the Caribbean in 2019:
On June 4, The Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced it was officially amending the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) to implement portions of President Donald Trump’s foreign policy toward Cuba, meaning it ended group people-to-people travel to the island. That week was a horror for many travel agents, who had clients among the more than 800,000 passengers had been booked on an upcoming Cuba voyage that now aren't operating. One advisor had 55 passengers alone booked on a July 2020 Virgin Voyages sailing to Cuba.
A recent spate of, so far, unrelated U.S. tourist deaths has caused concern among consumers. At least 10 travelers have now died (more than half of heart-related causes) on the island in the past calendar year. The Ministry of Tourism of the Dominican Republic said it expressed its sincerest condolences to the families and friends of those affected in the tragic events that have been reported over the last few weeks, adding that it is working closely with the appropriate authorities to solve these cases as quickly as possible. To add to the negative PR, former Major League Baseball star David Ortiz was shot in his hometown at a club during this same time.
Recently, Delta and JetBlue offered waivers for those traveling to the island from now through August 15. New bookings in June for travel in July and August is down more than 74 percent.
In April, the Turks and Caicos Ministry of Health, Agriculture, Sport and Human Services announced that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had updated its Zika travel information website to reflect that the destination is among the countries with current or past Zika transmission but no outbreak. The website, which provides information to travelers about the risk of acquiring Zika when traveling to different countries, reports that the last confirmed case of Zika in the Turks and Caicos was in January 2017.
A fire struck Princess Cays, Princess Cruises’ private island in Eleuthera, the Bahamas, at approximately 11 p.m. local time on January 28. There were no guests at Princess Cays at the time of the fire, and no injuries were reported. Additionally, no guest-facing facilities were impacted, except one of several public restrooms. Also good to know: No itineraries were affected by the fire.
Virgin Group Founder Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Voyages president and CEO Tom McAlpin opened bookings for Virgin Voyages’s first ship, Scarlet Lady in February. The inaugural season offers voyages departing from April 1 through October 21, 2020. Originally scheduled to visit Cuba, among other destinations in the Caribbean, Virgin Voyages is now looking to the Riviera Maya in Mexico.
The Riviera Maya sailings will call on Cozumel / Playa del Carmen, Mexico, where travelers will have the chance to dive and see up to 26 coral species, as well as explore ecological and archeological attractions, such as Mayan ruins. There will also be an optional excursion to neighboring Tulum, for a chance to sample its hip, bohemian nightlife scene and beaches.
In January, Wymara Ltd. announced a new brand – Wymara Resort and Villas – that will operate as an independent identity for the resort formerly known as Gansevoort Turks + Caicos. The resort is set against the seascape of Grace Bay Beach in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands. The resort and villas remain fully owned and managed by the original developers of the resort, Wymara Ltd.
The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism & Aviation released a statement that it is aware of a March update to the U.S. Travel Advisory for the Bahamas. The current U.S. State Department Travel Advisory is set at Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution (which is the same as many top European destinations, such as the U.K., France, Italy and Germany). The State Department advisory reads, “Exercise increased caution in The Bahamas due to crime."
The Ministry of Tourism & Aviation pointed out that the advisory suggests using caution but does not actually urge delaying or cancelling travel plans.
Having made its debut on January 27, the stylish S Hotel Jamaica is aiming to become the ultimate trendsetting hotspot overlooking Doctor’s Cave Beach. Despite the 120-room S Hotel’s contemporary design, it is still looking to feel “notably Jamaican.” There will be buzzing bars, a pool scene, a Sky Deck for the exclusive use of those booked on concierge floors, an international restaurant, a café, spa, and a gym.
Chris Issa, Jamaican entrepreneur and owner of Crissa Hotels, said, “We’re creating a new kind of hotel in Montego Bay—one that infuses modern Jamaican culture balanced with the sophistication of an urban hotel and the laidback style of a beach resort.”
When clients come to you to plan their Caribbean vacation, make sure Grenada is on your radar. Travel Agent, earlier this year, returned from a trip to the Spice Isle and we say it’s an absolute must-visit. Like plenty of other Caribbean islands, it has fantastic beaches for lounging and clear-blue waters for swimming, snorkeling and diving, but Grenada also has a plethora of other activities, whether your clients are seeking out history or active excursions.
Top luxury hotel options include Mount Cinnamon, Spice Island Beach Resort and Silversands.
Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. (BTMI) and JetBlue jointly announced the expansion of JetBlue’s seasonal weekly service on Saturdays to year-round service between Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) and Grantley Adams International Airport (BGI). The expansion began May 4, 2019.
Barbados has continued to see an increase in U.S. arrival numbers for the fourth consecutive year, with 2018 producing a record of 204,830 visitors from the U.S, an increase of 8.4 percent from 2017. The BTMI says high-level airline partnerships continue to be a priority for Barbados, which has already seen an increase in airlift and new gateways in other cities, such as Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Boston.