The Pitons of St. Lucia, seen from the Anse Chastanet Resort
Travel Agent is just back from the Caribbean Marketplace in St. Lucia and we’re brimming with news from the five-day event, where we owned the floor—and the evenings—as we mingled into the wee hours with top suppliers and delegates.
And here’s what we came away with.
Numbers Prove Success
Perhaps it was the increasingly popular location of St. Lucia or perhaps it was because hotels are in more need now than ever to get business done—whatever the reason, the 29-year-old show produced some of the best numbers it has had in years.
Travel Agent was on hand for the closing press conference, during which it was announced that there were 406 booths, 1,336 delegates and 12,292 appointments. According to the CHTA, this was the first time in a decade that the number of booths topped the 400 mark. (There were 397 booths in 2008 and 371 in 2007.) There were 871 supplier delegates ready to meet 298 buyers from more than 20 countries.
Major Caribbean Brands Branching to Latin America
One common theme that seemed to surface at the show was all the major Caribbean hotel brands that are either considering, or have already planned, expansions into Latin America—to name a few, Grace Bay Resorts, SuperClubs resorts and The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. Ritz-Carlton is looking into plans to expand to Colombia while Grace Bay Resorts has its eyes on Costa Rica, Argentina or Panama. Ezzat Coutry, senior vice president of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, told Travel Agent the company is looking to build a hotel in the destination, but that plans are “in the very early stages.” Ritz-Carlton already has a property in Chile. SuperClubs will soon be opening its first properties in Latin America when it debuts two new Breezes in Panama and Brazil. Meanwhile, Nikheel Advani, managing director of Grace Bay Club, says that plans are in the works to open Grace Bay Resorts’ first property in Latin America. While the destination has yet to be decided, he says it could be Panama, Costa Rica or Argentina. (Travel Agent also learned that Grace Bay Resorts would be taking over management of the Veranda Resort & Residences in Turks and Caicos in October, but will not make any major changes to the property.) These moves make sense, since we believe Caribbean-loving clients will be attracted to Latin America, which has plenty of fun in the sun and is generally more affordable than the Caribbean.
Participants at the trade show shared information about the future of Caribbean tourism
Last Year for Starfish, Grand Lido Brands
SuperClubs Resorts broke one of the biggest stories, announcing that all of its Grand Lido and Starfish properties will be rebranded as Breezes Resorts. Among the major rebrandings will be SuperClubs’ most popular resort, Grand Lido Negril Resort & Spa in Jamaica, which will be renamed Breezes Grand Negril Resort & Spa as of November 1. At the same time, Grand Lido Braco Resort & Spa will become Breezes Rio Bueno Resort & Spa. “All of our competitors had a clear message,” says Bob Ford, director of wholesale sales. “We did not have a clear message. Now we do. It was a lot harder having to explain our product and have to discuss five different brands.”
New Brand for St. Lucia Revealed: The St. Lucia Tourist Board unveiled its new logo, marking the first step of what is being described as a “comprehensive rebranding” of the island. St. Lucia’s new brand identity aims to combine St. Lucia’s famous World Heritage Piton Mountains and the colors of its national flag. The tourist board will continue the rebranding process by launching a comprehensive new marketing campaign early this year as well as a completely redesigned destination website.
Bonaire to Become Part of the Netherlands
This year Bonaire will begin transition to new political status, as it will become a special municipality of the Netherlands in 2010. As part of this transition, Bonaire chose to adopt the U.S. dollar as its currency. According to a written release, “This will prove to be an advantage to visitors from the U.S., who will not be subject to fluctuating world currencies when planning a visit to the island.” Visit www.tourismbonaire.com.
Opening of Couples Tower Isle Delayed Until April
Randall L. Russell, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Couples Resorts, told Travel Agent that Couples Tower Isle, formerly known as Couples Ocho Rios, will have its opening in Jamaica delayed until April 12. The resort, which was originally scheduled to open March 14, is experiencing construction delays. Russell told us certain materials for the construction have yet to arrive. All bookings that were made from March 14–April 12 will still be honored at any other Couples Resorts. Clients also have the option of delaying their stays until Couples Tower Isle officially opens. In both cases, clients will be given two complimentary nights for their inconvenience.
The Garden at Graycliff in Nassau, Bahamas, evokes old-fashioned Caribbean splendor
Graycliff To Increase Room Count
A spokesperson for Graycliff Hotel & Restaurant in Nassau, the Bahamas, told Travel Agent that the resort is looking to more than double its number of rooms from 20 to 50 when the hotel opens two new buildings across the street from the current resort. The new buildings will also feature a chocolate- and coffee-making facility for guests. The master plan, which hasn’t been finalized, will call for new rooms as well as closing off a street near the hotel to be used as a marketplace that would be owned by the hotel. That process, which will require permission from local traffic officials, could take some time. We were told that all plans could be finished within the next one to two years, but that estimate is “wishful thinking.”
The Mandarino Suite at Graycliff
St. James Club to Open Hotel Within Hotel
The St. James Club in Antigua will be opening a separate hotel within its existing hotel. The new 48-suite Royal St. James will, unlike the St. James Club, be adults-only, Steven E. Heydt, president of Elite Islands Resorts, told us. It is expected to be open by mid to late April.
Where We Stayed
Travel Agent stayed at Royal by Rex Resorts during our stay in St. Lucia, in room #3317. It had a king-size bed and a balcony with ocean views. We loved that the bedroom was separated from the living area by curtains and had a few stairs leading up to it. What we didn’t like was the lack of Internet service in the rooms, something virtually unheard of these days. And the Internet service that was provided in the lobby was buried in a secluded area behind the lobby’s main stairwell. The rooms—and the resort in general—need major refurbishments. The furniture and the overall look of the hotel just felt old and dated.
On the other hand, this resort has a lot of potential. The design of the rooms, as we mentioned, was great. And the location of the resort doesn’t get much better: It is right smack in the heart of Rodney Bay, which is St. Lucia’s most happening spot for bars and restaurants. We don’t think it will be long before management realizes what a great product this could be with a little investment. In fact, we were told by some industry professional that Sandals Resorts had once inquired about purchasing the property, but those talks stalled. If it’s location your clients are looking for, book them here. But if they are the least bit fussy about the rooms and amenities, give this property a little time before pitching it.
CHTA Marketplace 2010
Next year will mark the 30th Caribbean marketplace. It will be held January 10–12 at the Puerto Rico Convention Center in San Juan.
Caribbean specialists talk business at the trade show