From a major sale in the world of tour operators to some big new resorts, 2013 was a busy year in the Caribbean. Here are the five biggest stories, ranked in order of popularity by our readers.
In early April American Express made waves when it sold major Caribbean tour operator Travel Impressions to Apple Leisure Group. Travel Impressions continued to operate its business under the existing brand including selling its services beyond those provided to American Express.
“Our plan is that everything agents liked about Apple and enjoyed with Travel Impressions will be combined and offered in the future by both companies, thus agents get the best of what both companies have to offer,” Tim Mullen, co-president of Apple Vacations, told Travel Agent in a follow-up interview. “Incentives, commissions, procedures and policies all remain in place. They have been a part of Travel Impressions' success and will continue to be integral to their success.”
Antigua got some serious publicity in June when it became the latest island to be featured on "The Bachelorette." The two-part season finale, which aired July 29 and August 5, featured three Elite Island Resorts properties on the island: The Verandah Resort & Spa, St. James's Club & Villas and Galley Bay Resort & Spa.
We've noted before that reality TV is a great way to spark client interest in a destination, and Antigua was no exception. This December Sandals announced that it is bringing a new Beaches Resort to the island. The new Beaches Antigua will be built on the site of the company's existing Grand Pineapple Beach Resort in Long Bay.
In more resort news, Sandals' changes to the company's "Soon Come Back" program drew fire from our readers. As of March 1, the program began to require written consent from repeat clients before agents would receive commission from the booking. Additionally, commissions from the program were capped at 10 percent.
“We were very surprised by all the negative comments we were getting,” Kevin Froemming, president at Unique Vacations Inc. (UVI), worldwide representatives for Sandals and Beaches Resorts, told Travel Agent in an interview at the time. “We were just like, ‘Wait, what are we missing here?’ We have a program where we pay agents commission on bookings made at the property. There is not one property anywhere else that has this program.”
An email from a Sandals specialist who wished to remain anonymous argued that the new rules “effectively cut agents out of the commission for these new bookings unless the clients contact Unique Vacations in writing to assign the bookings to their agents and the agents then claim the bookings from UVI individually.”
In response to the criticism, Sandals convened an emergency meeting, which included Froemming, Sandals Chairman Gordon “Butch” Stewart, Sandals CEO Adam Stewart and several of Sandals' top-producing agents at Sandals Emerald Bay in the Bahamas.
Couples Barbados: Travel Agent Gets a Sneak Peek at the First Couples Resorts Property Outside of Jamaica
In May, Travel Agent had the chance to tour the Couples Barbados, which at the time was the first Couples Resorts property outside of Jamaica. In October, the resort changed hands again when Sandals announced that the company had reached an agreement with the Government of Barbados to re-open the property as a Sandals Resort, a move Travel Agent had been predicting since 2011.
Sandals Chairman: Economics Behind Temporary Closing of Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort Villages and Spa
A story on the reasoning behind Sandals' decision to temporarily close the Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort Villages and Spa also drew reader interest.
In an interview with THE SUN, Gordon “Butch” Stewart, chairman of Sandals Resorts International, parent company of Beaches Resorts, dismissed as “rubbish” reports that he was playing hardball with the Turks & Caicos government and pointed to economics as being behind the decision.
“The closure is economics,” Stewart told The SUN. “If I wanted to close Beaches to serve lessons (to the Turks and Caicos Islands government), I have the reputation for saying I’m going to do it…in the last year we’ve had so many unusual costs, for example, we’ve had the Veranda from last December and we could have had it opened but we ended up having to close it. Can you imagine how much money it cost us over the past five months?”
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