All across the board it was a big year for the Caribbean—a multitude of hotels and resorts reopened better than ever in the wake of 2017's hurricanes, new flights were added to islands and there was some big shakeups at major brands operating in the destination. There was still a few negative stories this year, which included Hurricane Florence passing through the region before wreaking havoc on the East Coast of the U.S., Jamaica had to declare a state of emergency for several months earlier this year due to increased crime rates, and destinations across the Caribbean and Atlantic Ocean saw the influx of sargassum seaweed, which made stretches of beaches unusable.
Here are the most popular Caribbean stories from Travel Agent in 2018:
The tourism industry in St. Maarten/St. Martin continued to recover at a steady pace this year as hotels reopened following the passage of Hurricanes Irma and Maria last September and airlines added new service. Among the larger properties, Divi Little Bay Beach Resort, Simpson Bay Resorts & Marina and Oyster Bay Beach Resort reopened their doors by late June. Sonesta Ocean Point Resort reopened December 15 and the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort & Spa is scheduled for February 1, 2019.
As of June, from the United States, travelers could fly via United Airlines, American Airlines, JetBlue, Delta Air Lines, Spirit Airlines and Seaborne Airlines. Service from Toronto was available on WestJet, while Dominican carrier Air Century and Panama-based Copa Airlines returned, as well.
In additional St. Martin news, AMResorts announced it's bringing its Secrets Resorts & Spas brand to St. Martin via a conversion of the former Riu Palace St. Martin.
Like, many other islands, news following the reopenings of hotels and attractions and new flights were a top draw for our readers. By festive season last year, Anguilla had almost 600 rooms available, comprising of a wide selection of villas, small hotels and holiday apartment rentals. Throughout the year, access to Anguilla also steadily improved. Seaborne flies five days a week from San Juan, Puerto Rico, providing connections to American Airlines, Delta, JetBlue, United Airlines and Southwest Airlines’ service into San Juan. Ferry status to both the Dutch and the French sides of St. Maarten/St.Martin also quickly resumed.
At the beginning of summer, WIMCO announced that six top hotels in St Barths would be opening in the latter half of 2018 through 2019. Hotel Le Toiny, Hotel Christopher St Barth, Le Barthelemy Hotel & Spa, Le Sereno Hotel and Cheval Blanc St Barth Isle de France Hotel. Opening December 22 will be Eden Rock Hotel's beach (for villa rental guests only). while the remainder of the property will open in November 2019; also opening next year will be Guanahani Hotel, Emeraude Plage Hotel, Tropical Hotel and Carl Gustaf Hotel.
Sandals Resorts International announced a new “Luxury Layaway Installment Payment Plan” for all guests of Sandals Resorts and Beaches Resorts. Guests can now split the cost of their Sandals and Beaches vacation over a number of months, providing more flexibility to Sandals guests, with plans ranging from as little as three months to as long as two years. The Luxury Layaway Installment Payment Plan is combinable with all applicable standard resort offers and loyalty and travel offers and is applicable to all consumers and travel agents when they book their all-inclusive stay through 1-800-SANDALS or 1-800- BEACHES.
In other top Sandals news, this summer saw CEO Adam Stewart step down after 12 years at the helm. He was replaced by industry veteran Gebhard F. Rainer as the new CEO of the company.
According to a statement issued by the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), on February 2, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) removed the Bahamas from its list of “Areas with Risk of Zika.” At the time, the Bahamas Ministry of Health confirmed that the last reported cases of Zika were in November of 2016.
Meliá Hotels International’s new 288-suite hotel, The Grand Reserve at Paradisus Palma Real, will open this December. Situated a half hour from Punta Cana International Airport in the Dominican Republic, The Grand Reserve will offer guests seven restaurants and bars, a full-service spa, a Beach Club on Bavaro Beach, a water park and fitness center.
Travel agent spoke to several Caribbean and Mexico ravel specialists about the impact that this year's consolidation of Apple Leisure Group and The Mark Travel Corporation will have on their business to both destinations. Later in the year, we caught up with the executives from ALG and The Mark Travel Corporation to see how the merger has been received.