ATLANTIS ON PARADISE ISLAND is usually pretty crowded on just any day. Add 1,515 people scattered throughout a packed trade show floor, punching away at computers in the press room or addressing media in meeting rooms for three days and you have a pretty good idea of what Caribbean Marketplace 2008 was like.
From a business perspective, the event was just as successful as last year's, with no dramatic increase or decrease in attendance numbers by suppliers: 942 delegates from 336 supplier companies (versus 908 and 330, respectively, last year). Among buyers, 148 showed up this year, compared to 169 last year, but the number of booths rose from 371 to 397.
Travel Agent felt the show stood out among the best Caribbean Hotel Association events in recent memory. Top tourism officials from all the islands were present and available for interviews. The trade show floor was always packed, even on the second (and final) day, when trade shows usually start to die off. Every table was busy with appointments, an indication that there's a lot of interest in Caribbean properties. Other Marketplace events, from press conferences to receptions, were well-run, productive and enjoyable.
Sandals to Build
Among the news highlights we gathered onsite, a few major hoteliers revealed expansion plans. Sandals Resorts' CEO Adam Stewart, told Travel Agent that the company is in preliminary planning to build six to eight boutique-style accommodations on its private island located a few miles from its Royal Caribbean resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
The island already features a swim-up bar, a secluded beach and a Thai restaurant. "It is a very difficult place to build; it's tricky," Stewart said. "If we can show people how to build there and build there effectively, then we will put rooms there." There is no time frame for when construction would start, but Stewart said a building plan is imminent.
He also said Sandals will build its first condo-hotel, a 100-room development on Providenciales in Turks and Caicos. The property will operate under Sandals' upscale Royal Plantation brand. Construction is slated to begin at the end of the year or in early 2009, according to Stewart.
Starwood Eyes Islands
Executives of Starwood Hotels & Resorts said at a Caribbean Marketplace press conference that the company will aggressively pursue new locations in the Caribbean, including Dominica and Curacao.
"We are not ready to make any official announcements at this point," said Graeme Davis, Starwood's vice president of operations for south Florida and the Caribbean, "but we would love to be in Dominica."
Starwood currently has 12 hotels in the Caribbean. At the press conference, Starwood also officially introduced Lourdes Hainlin as its director of leisure sales for the Caribbean region and announced the promotion of 29-year industry veteran Tim Rector to the position of vice president, sales and marketing, for Starwood's Caribbean region.