With 2018 upon us, it’s time for Caribbean specialists to begin compiling a strategy for selling the region throughout the year.
Allow Travel Agent to assist as we tip you off to the hottest storylines advisors should be following in order to fully capitalize on Caribbean sales.
Hurricane Bounce Back
San Juan, Puerto Rico // Photo by dennisvdw/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images
As many Caribbean specialists probably assumed, the Caribbean's ongoing bounce-back in tourism after Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria ravaged the region back in September is the biggest story to follow heading into 2018.
Creating consumer awareness of the islands that were either not touched by the hurricane, sustained minor damage or have since recovered and rebuilt, will be a Caribbean specialist's most important task heading into 2018.
"Many clients and potential clients who've asked me about travel to the Caribbean now and into 2018 have thought most islands have been devastated and travel to the Caribbean at this time is very limited, which is not true," Kristen DeAngelo of Dream Excapes told Travel Agent as part of a recent Caribbean trends story we featured. "Only a small number of islands were damaged and some of those are slowly reopening. I try to educate clients as best I can about the current status of the Caribbean islands due to the hurricane damage."
During a conference call with Travel Agent and other travel media in October, the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) and Travel Leaders Group jointly announced a new travel agent and consumer-awareness campaign to promote Caribbean destinations that are open for business for fall and winter travel.
The “One Caribbean Family Ambassador” campaign will include resources and up-to-the-minute information for Travel Leaders Group’s more than 40,000 travel agents about availability and conditions, as well as social media tools and consumer education and awareness materials.
“While we recognize that the hurricane season has been devastating for many Caribbean islands, if travelers avoid these unaffected destinations, the economic impact within the entire region will be compounded and there will be even more of an impact both economically and personally,” says Ninan Chacko, CEO of the Travel Leaders Group.
Chacko cited Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Curacao, the Cayman Islands, Jamaica and St. Lucia as islands that are ready now. The CTO, however, has also cited scores of other islands that weren’t majorly affected, including Turks and Caicos, Martinique, Antigua, Grenada and the Dominican Republic.
The destinations that were affected the most, according to the CTO, were St. Maarten/St. Martin, Puerto Rico, St. Barts, the British Virgin Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Barbuda, Dominica and Anguilla.
Apple Vacations also teamed up with journalist and award-winning television news reporter Julie Ruditzky Loffredi to promote travel to the Caribbean region.
In an effort to reassure travelers that the vast majority of the Caribbean region is safe and fully functional, Apple Vacations executives were backstage as Loffredi filmed television segments at Path 1 Studios in Manhattan to lend their expertise as the award-winning reporter discussed the current state of Caribbean travel. The segments were customized to air in multiple markets, including Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburg and St. Louis.
“The Caribbean is very popular for Apple Vacations and the travel agents who book our product,” said Tim Mullen, president of Apple Vacations, in a written release. “We stand by our partners in the region to help clarify some of the confusion in the marketplace about which islands are open for business and which have sustained damage. Our ultimate goal is to drive tourism to the islands of the Caribbean whose economies are linked to hospitality.”
In addition to educating consumers and promoting travel to the region, Loffredi encouraged viewers to support the region’s recovery by donating to Tourism Cares or Hispanic Federation.
“The outpouring of support the Caribbean has received from the industry has been a lifeline for the region," said Hugh Riley, secretary general of the CTO. “We're calling on all the agents and operators who have made the Caribbean an integral part of their businesses to follow the example set by Apple Vacations and keep offering their clients the superb vacation experience they expect and deserve.”
Scott Wiseman, president of Travel Impressions, told Travel Agent that although bookings to the Caribbean have understandably dipped following the back-to-back hurricanes of Irma and Maria, he expects the region's tourism industry to rebound by early 2018.
“Bookings to the Caribbean in the aftermath of the hurricanes are understandably soft, but the region is resilient and we anticipate a recovery by early 2018,” Wiseman told Travel Agent. “While new bookings for the remainder of 2017 may have slowed, it’s worth noting that occupancy levels in unaffected destinations will remain at projected levels due to reservations already in place before the hurricane season. Cancellations were minimal and were largely offset by re-bookings.”
And Travel Impressions is doing its part to make sure that prediction comes to fruition.
“The regional tourism industry, championed by the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) and the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) is actively working with travel agents and tour operators to educate consumers and develop targeted promotions that will help drive arrivals,” Wiseman told Travel Agent. “We are doing our best to support that as much as possible, as we have with our 'Caribbean Strong: Fully Functional and Fully Fabulous' campaign.”
Travel Agent was told that the Caribbean Strong campaign’s main focus will be driving business to islands that are currently fully operational and welcoming tourists. Those islands include Antigua, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Bonaire, Curacao, the Dominican Republic, the Cayman Islands, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Travel Impressions will participate in the hurricane relief funds set up by the Caribbean’s public and private-sector tourism and hospitality development agencies and is encouraging travel agents and industry partners to do the same.
Also, Travel Agent is doing our part to promote the islands that are open for business in the Caribbean with our ongoing Caribbean - Open for Business series. Click here for a full directory of the Caribbean - Open for Business stories we have published so far.
Sandals Royal Caribbean's Over-the-Water Suites
The over-the-water room category was first introduced to the Caribbean back in 2016 by Sandals Resorts International. But it looks like Sandals could have some company soon in that market, as all-inclusive competitor AMResorts announced plans in 2017 to open a Zoetry Resort in Aruba that features the category.
Sandals then announced in February the launch of nine new Over-the Water Honeymoon Butler Bungalows at Sandals Grande St. Lucian. Finally, on December 16, Sandals announced that Sandals South Coast’s 12 new Over-the-Water Bungalows opened to guests.
As part of our coverage of Classic Vacations’ STAR Performer event at Dreams Playa Mujeres in Mexico last year, we got the skinny on AMResort’s plans for a new Zoetry Resort in Aruba that will include the company’s first-ever over-the-water bungalows.
In fact, all of the roughly 130 rooms at the Aruba resort will be over-the-water bungalows, says Susan Lang, AMResorts’ regional sales manager for the Northeast.
"[Karisma Hotels & Resorts'] Palafitos [Over Water Bungalows] in Mexico are, of course, generating tremendous buzz, so we anticipate Zoetry's over-the-water bungalows in Aruba will be a source of even more excitement when those open," Scott Wiseman, president of Travel Impressions told Travel Agent.
The Caribbean Destinations to Keep an Eye On
Tobago. // Photo by pabst_ell/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images
Just as Sandals has created buzz around the over-the-water room category in the Caribbean, it is also responsible for creating excitement over the island of Tobago, which has always served as a two-day getaway from sister-island Trinidad and now may be able to stand on its own as viable option for a four or five-day getaway.
And that's because Sandals' most loyal advisors and clients were most likely paying attention when the company issued a statement back in October announcing official plans to open both a Sandals Resort and a Beaches Resort on Tobago.
It will be interesting to see if Sandals' presence on the island will influence increased airlift to the destination as it has done in other destinations like Grenada.
Also, as part of our recent Caribbean trends feature, Caribbean experts including Wiseman and Dave Ferran, head of sales for Classic Vacations, hinted smaller islands like Grenada and Nevis are picking up steam heading into the new year. Ferran says there is also interest in St. Kitts with the recently-opened Park Hyatt St. Kitts, while Wiseman also points to St. Lucia as an island that is continues to perform well, propped up by high-end resorts such as [Sugar Beach, A Viceroy Resort] and Cap Maison, as well Jade Mountain, Rendezvous and The BodyHoliday.
Grenada’s profile has grown considerably with Spice Island Beach Resort catering to the affluent market and mid-range properties such as Mount Cinnamon [Resort & Beach Club] and Coyaba Beach Resort attracting value-seekers.
"Finally, the most famous out-of-the-hurricane-belt islands are of course Aruba and Curacao, but Bonaire is another great option that will nearly guarantee sunny weather," says Wiseman. "Flights are limited to Bonaire, but certainly worth the trip for snorkelers and divers."
And we should also note that we expect Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Turks and Caicos, as they have for many years running now, to be among the overall popular items in the region in 2018.