2014 Caribbean Travel Marketplace. // © 2014 Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association
Last month, representatives of Caribbean tourism convened In Montego Bay, Jamaica, for the 2014 Caribbean Travel Marketplace, a trade show that brings together suppliers and buyers from around the world. There was a general feeling of optimism in the air, despite the economic hardships the region has faced over the last few years.
STR Global, a company providing analytics for the hotel industry, reported that in a year-over-year comparison, the Caribbean rose 2 percent in occupancy to 67.2 percent in 2013, and the average daily rate (ADR) was up 5.2 percent to $180.50. This was the highest percentage in both occupancy and ADR reported since 2008. Some suppliers reported even higher gains.
“Throughout the Caribbean in 2013, our average daily rate was up 10 percent,” said Tom Osborn, regional director of North American development with Best Western International, Inc. “I haven’t seen an increase of this type in years.”
Apple Leisure Group
Alex Zozaya, CEO of Apple Leisure Group (Apple Vacations, AMResorts, Amstar DMC, Unlimited Vacation Club, Travel Impressions and CheapCaribbean.com) also agreed that 2013 showed strong growth.
“2013 was a great year, but in 2014 we’ll be even better at putting all of these things together,” said Zozaya. “Synergy across the brands will increase charter flights, since all three companies (Apple, Travel Impressions, Cheap Caribbean) are selling airline seats.”
Zozaya also noted the 2013 debut of AMResorts’ adults-only Breathless brand.
“Breathless is different from Secrets, our other adults-only brand,” explained Zozaya. “Secrets has more of a romantic base, and while it’s not couples only, it has lots of honeymooners and guests celebrating anniversaries. At Breathless, it’s more about socializing and interaction. There’s more of a party atmosphere. We refer to Breathless as ‘Las Vegas meets South Beach.’”
Breathless Punta Cana opened in 2013. Agents can expect to see additional Breathless properties opening in Jamaica, Aruba, Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos.
Jamaica Celebrates a Milestone
Jamaica also reported major success during the marketplace. The country was celebrating a recent milestone — in 2013, the island hosted two million stopover visitors for the first time ever.
“Our room stock exceeds 30,000, which has been bolstered by the opening of several newly renovated properties in 2013,” said John Lynch, director of tourism, Jamaica Tourist Board. “This resulted in the addition of approximately 800 rooms. Of that number, 238 were new additions with the recent opening of RIU’s adults-only RIU Palace in Montego Bay.”
Portia Simpson Miller, Jamaica’s Prime Minister, officially opened the marketplace with an update on the first phase of a transformational project in Ocho Rios.
“This phase will see upgrades to the cruise terminal, the pedestrian areas around the cruise port, the promenade by the marina and along Main Street back to the Turtle River Road to the cruise ship terminal,” Miller said.
In Montego Bay, a project to improve the lighting throughout the 10.5-mile stretch between the roundabout at the Sangster International Airport and the Iberostar Hotel to the east will begin soon.
Another significant development that is currently underway in Jamaica is improving the North South link of Highway 2000.
“The North South highway linking Kingston and Ocho Rios currently takes two hours to drive,” said Nicola Madden, Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association group director of marketing and sales. “When the new highway is completed in 2016, we’ll see this driving time cut by 30 to 45 minutes. This will also help visitation to Port Antonio and St. Mary Parish.”
Trinidad’s Port of Spain will receive a new daily JetBlue flight from JFK beginning Feb. 24 and a daily flight from Ft. Lauderdale beginning May 1.
Last year, JetBlue began flights from Miami into Haiti.
“The loads are good to Haiti,” said Jessica Banchs, manager of international sales for JetBlue. “Passengers are a mix of leisure and non-governmental organizations, as well as people in Miami reconnecting with family in Haiti.”
Island Routes Caribbean Adventures
Island Routes Caribbean Adventures is coming off a vigorous year of expansion, currently operating out of 17 resort areas in 11 Caribbean destinations.
“We’ll be going into Belize and Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis in the first half of 2014,” said David L. Shields, general manager of Island Routes Caribbean Adventures.
In Jamaica, the tour operator just opened River Bumpkin Farm on the grounds of a former sugar plantation in Trelawny. The site will offer activities that include river tubing, kayaking, biking and a historical walking tour of the property, which still contains many of the original structures, including the boiling house, curing house and distilling house, which were all used in the plantation’s rum production process.
Destination weddings continue to perform strongly in the market.
“Brides are asking for more expensive packages,” said Marilyn Cairo, managing partner of Ask Me, a hospitality service provider. “They’re getting away from blue in the color palette and are mixing colors. They’re also asking for more local flavor and they want to bring in the culture of the destination.”
Brides often arrive a few days early to shop locally for gifts for their guests. Fifth Avenue in Playa del Carmen is a popular choice for buying handcrafted beach bags.
Hilary Lanzer, managing partner of Ask Me, also noted a surprising new trend.
“We’re seeing sisters combining their destination weddings,” said Lanzer. “We’ve even seen a father combining his second marriage with his daughter’s nuptials. Combining weddings like this helps to lower costs.”
Throughout marketplace, there was a concerted cry for more cooperation among destinations in working together to attract more travelers to the Caribbean.
“We are stronger together as a region than any one country is on its own,” said Richard Doumeng, president of the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association. “Our foremost goal is to get travelers back to the Caribbean. We’re competing against the world. Once we get them here, we can then compete against each other to get their business.”