ANSE MARCEL, St. Martin—Although increases in visitor arrivals to the Caribbean have been posted region-wide (23.1 million stay-overs last year) and the luxury market remains a reliable source of business, per visitor expenditures are down and booking windows are shorter as a result of the lingering effects of the global economic downtown, panelists said during the Caribbean State of the Industry Conference last week.
“The modern visitor is a discriminating traveler who seeks our islands beyond just the hotels, but expects at least that hotel services are up to international standard,” said Ricky Skerritt, minister of tourism for St. Kitts & Nevis and chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization. “The challenge is not only to attract the potential traveller to the Caribbean, but also to deliver a world-class product."
With enthusiasm for the region and a sharp eye for the reality of the marketplace, Hugh Riley, secretary general of the CTO, stressed the importance of maximizing the opportunities that can offset a worldwide uncertain economy.
“We want to come out of this conference with some answers as to what’s next, how to spot the opportunities to move forward and how to beat this recession. The tourism business is fiercely competitive, and the Caribbean has to win.”
In St. Kitts, arrivals as of mid-August showed a spike of 14% from the North American source market with notable strength in the Southeast and upper Midwest following the mergers of Delta/Northwest and Continental/United, which have opened up new feeder markets. Cruise arrivals are projected to jump by more than 20% during the season that starts next month.
“It is a significant achievement to be able to forecast a fifth consecutive year of growth in cruise arrivals,” Skerritt said. “So far, we have projected more than 650,000 cruise passengers will arrive by September 2012.”
Ricky Skerritt, minister of tourism for St. Kitts & Nevis and chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization
Upgrades to the destination include a redesigned website for social-media accounts, e-newsletters and tradeshow backdrops.
“Post 9/11 responses saw the leisure market return to travel as a way of healing,” Skerritt said. “There was a greater mainstream adoption of experiential, multigenerational and volunteer vacations as a means of connecting more deeply with each other. Despite the lasting socioeconomic dent made to Caribbean destinations following 9/11, we have proven that our region is resilient, adaptable and still extremely desirable for travellers.”
May-Ling Chun, director of tourism for the St. Maarten Tourism Bureau, announced a “major roll-out” of winter resort packages that will start next month via Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, MLT Vacations and Travel Impressions. With a room count of 3,700 on the Dutch side of the island, occupancy remains high.
“One of my goals is to establish a hotel rating system so that our visitors know exactly what kind of property they have booked,” Chun said.
Americas Ad Will Appear Here
Referring to recession-driven uncertainty, Keith Williams, CEO of British Airways, said during his keynote speech that with finances tight, customers are looking for competitive prices, added-value services and sustainable travel.
“We are investing heavily over the next five years in new aircraft, new technologies to reduce hassle on the ground and catering,” he said.
JetBlue will begin daily nonstop flights from San Juan to St. Maarten and San Juan to St. Thomas on 17 November. “The Caribbean is one of our most profitable regions,” said Chad Meyerson, director of global sales. “Twenty-five percent of our capacity flies to the Caribbean and Latin America.” JetBlue flies to 23 Caribbean destinations with the largest number of flights to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
Home suite home
Expanding its Caribbean portfolio, Ascend Collection from Choice Hotels announced at the show a new member hotel on the island of Dominica. The first phase of the 40-room Atlantique View resort will open this fall as part of the Ascend Collection membership program. The resort will be located in the northeastern corner of the island.
“We are focused on continuing our Ascend membership network growth in the region by identifying upscale independent hotels that are truly one of a kind,” said Jose Salvador Icaza, director of emerging markets and Caribbean franchise development for Choice. The resort is the fourth Ascend property open or under development in the Caribbean.
A hotel-build in St. Maarten and two hotel conversions from boutique properties in St. Thomas and St. Croix also are “under serious consideration” for the Ascend Collection, Icaza said.
In Anguilla, Leandro Rizzuto, owner of CuisinArt Resort & Spa, has purchased the Temenos project of beachfront homes and villas and the iconic Mediterranean-style resort that will re-open on 15 October under its new name, CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa. A member of The Leading Hotels of the World, the 5-star property along Rendevous Bay features an on-site hydroponic farm. Before the sale, Temenos was managed by the Cap Juluca resort.