|Cuba dominated the headlines in 2015 and you can expect much of the same this year. // Photo by Joe Pike|
Now that the New Year has officially commenced, it’s time to look at what Caribbean story lines to follow in 2016.
Travel Agent has the skinny on some developing news as well as some 2015 stories that still haven’t ended.
Any look into the future of Caribbean tourism almost has to begin with the potential impact of Cuba’s re-emergence on the region.
The end of the year saw scores of tour operators joining the people-to-people party to Cuba with new private, experiential tours to the once forbidden destination launched by Travel Impressions, Apple Vacations, Abercrombie & Kent, Island Destinations and Cox & Kings.
But perhaps the biggest Cuba development to follow in 2016 was the recent, groundbreaking agreement between the U.S. and Cuba to resume commercial air travel between the two countries for the first time in more than half a century.
American Airlines plans to submit a U.S.-Cuba service proposal to the U.S. Department of Transportation with the hope of introducing scheduled service soon in 2016.
In an official statement, United Airlines also said that it looks forward to “offering service between our global gateways and Cuba as soon as we have approval to do so.”
JetBlue Ariways has also said that it will submit an application for new Cuba routes to the U.S. Department of Transportation once the airline has fully reviewed terms of the agreement and has clarity on the process and timing of assigning frequencies to U.S. airlines.
Also, in late December, United States based airline, Havana Air, announced that it will be the first carrier to launch a fully automated air reservation system for direct flight bookings to Cuba.
The game-changing rollout, which went live on January 1, allows users to book their flights via the airline's website.
The Fate of Baha Mar
It’s been a crazy year for the developers of Baha Mar, the $3.5 billion resort development that was supposed to change the face of The Bahamas.
After a few minor delays, the highly-anticipated project was slated for completion around March of 2015 before the delay of all delays hit: a complete stoppage of work due to legal and financial matters involving the project’s subcontractors. And, sadly, more than 95 percent of the work has been completed already.
According to a recent Tribune242 report, from May to December, Perry Christie, The Bahamas’ prime minister, predicted an imminent resolution to Baha Mar’s problems that would result in the remobilization of the resort, even as some stakeholders increasingly cautioned him in the press to choose his words more carefully on a matter hardly under his control.
And as 2015 ended, Baha Mar’s subcontractors remained unpaid. According to Tribune242, Christie told the press on December 26 that he expects Baha Mar to be completed early this year, although he failed to give a specific date for the restart of construction at the resort or a date for when the property might open.
Watch Cayman Brac in 2016
While Grand Cayman tends to get most of the tourist attention in the Cayman Islands, lesser-known Cayman Brac should start creeping up on agents’ radar, as the island will welcome several notable hotel renovations in 2016.
Following a recently completed facelift, Brac Reef Beach Resort has reopened as the Cayman Brac Beach Resort, complete with a free-form pool, multi-level bar and upgraded accommodations.
Cayman Airways Limited also launched nonstop weekly outbound service from Cayman Brac to Miami, aided by the expansion and renovation earlier this year of the Brac’s Charles Kirkconnell International Airport (CKIA), bringing the airport into compliance with international safety standards for nonstop flights into the U.S.
Aman Joy in the D.R.
Aman Resorts recently announced the launch of Amanera, which officially opened in the Dominican Republic on November 23. Perched on a clifftop overlooking Playa Grande beach, Amanera is surrounded by verdant jungle and framed by the island’s dramatic Cordillera Septentrional mountain range.
The resort is the first golf-integrated Aman, offering the Playa Grande Golf Course, which reportedly has the highest number of oceanside holes in the Western Hemisphere. The resort also offers extensive dining, spa and recreational facilities, and 25 Casitas each sporting a raw, organic design that complements the natural setting. At the heart of the resort lies “Casa Grande,” constructed in such a way that it appears to float above a three-tiered water feature and offers sweeping ocean, golf course and jungle views.
Big Plans for Water Island
Travel Agent sat down earlier this year with Beverly Nicholson-Doty, commissioner of tourism for the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), and chatted about plans to fully open little-known Water Island to tourism by adding its first hotel since 1989. She told us there have been several meetings with the isle’s roughly 200 residents to make sure the community has a say in the future of their island.
Doty said one of the main requests from residents is that the hotel will be environmentally friendly and that is something she said the government is also looking at as a top priority, adding that all of the proposed plans of interest are for hotels between 150-200 rooms.
The isle’s first guest accommodation, The Water Island Hotel, opened in 1953 and later became the Sea Cliff Resort before it was destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Water Island is actually the fourth official and most recently acquired island in the USVI.