Demetrius Canton of Expedia // © 2015 Expedia Group
Feature image (above): Intra-island travel is a growing trend in the Caribbean. // © 2015 Thinkstock
As the U.S. economy continues to brighten, the Caribbean is benefiting from an influx of American travelers. According to recent data gathered by online travel company Expedia, the first nine months of 2014 saw a 35 percent increase in U.S. guests to Caribbean destinations.
Demetrius Canton, director of lodging partner services for the Caribbean at Expedia, Inc., spoke with TravelAge West about burgeoning trends in the region, as well as how Expedia is responding to travelers’ increased mobile connectivity.
How is the local tourism industry responding to increased demand?
An increase in visitors is certainly a positive influence, promising job security and opportunities for new tourism ventures in the industry. The global travel industry is an enormous business — $2 trillion per year and growing.
Regional growth is one of the reasons Expedia has begun to open local offices in countries such as the Dominican Republic, so we can be on the ground and better equipped to assist our busy hotel partners.
What is it about the Caribbean region that continues to draw more and more tourists?
The Caribbean has the allure of a tropical paradise. This, combined with a warm climate year round, pristine beaches, turquoise waters, a rich cultural identity that varies by country and a variety of activities offered by each destination, continues to arouse interest in travelers from all over the world. We don’t see that stopping any time soon.
What travel trends are you seeing?
We are seeing significant growth in intra-Caribbean travel, with a 50 percent increase in demand from the first quarter to the third quarter in 2014, compared year over year on Expedia group sites. The top five Caribbean markets reporting substantial intra-Caribbean growth are the Dominican Republic; Barbados; the Cayman Islands; Puerto Rico; and Trinidad and Tobago.
What do you think has influenced the growth of intra-Caribbean travel?
The increase in travel between islands in the Caribbean can be likely attributed to economic factors, such as additional flights to the region, as well as the market intelligence, technology solutions and marketing tactics we’re able to provide our hotel partners to help craft targeted promotions.
What changes do you anticipate seeing in the next year or two regarding Cuban travel for American visitors?
We feel that expanded travel opportunities between the U.S, and Cuba are a positive development, though we don’t know enough yet to comment beyond the fact that we look forward to learning more about this initiative and the new travel opportunities it may bring our hotel partners.
Besides Cuba, what are some emerging destinations in the Caribbean for U.S. travelers?
The top producing islands in the Caribbean are the Dominican Republic, followed by Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Aruba and the Bahamas.
In terms of hot new destinations, we’re seeing an uptick in demand for Haiti, as well as Turks and Caicos, which speaks to the increased demand we are seeing for the luxury segment. The Expedia Caribbean team is also now handling Martinique and Guadeloupe, so those destinations will be getting additional exposure from our travel sites.
What do you expect to see in the near future in terms of industry development?
We have been pleased to see an increased number of flights offered from the U.S. to Caribbean destinations. Beyond that, the biggest trend we’re seeing that will allow for further growth in the market is the fact that mobile has become mainstream.
Mobile has surpassed personal computers as the No. 1 Internet-connected device in the world, so we have to constantly innovate to stay ahead of the change.
We’re making significant investments in mobile, including apps and mobile sites, as well as investing in the user experience. We have a testing lab at our headquarters in Bellevue, Wash. Travelers and hotel partners participate in various studies to help us understand what tools they need and how we can help improve experience.
Can you share examples of Expedia’s new mobile offerings?
Two examples of tools that we’re rolling out in 2015 are Real Time Feedback and Sell Tonight.
Real Time Feedback, which was designed using feedback from hoteliers who wanted more support in securing positive hotel reviews, targets the mobile-savvy traveler. The interface is simple: Shortly after a guest checks into an Expedia-booked hotel, they receive an email asking them three questions (regarding the check-in process, the guestroom and the hotel location). Guests answer through an intuitive and fun interface and are offered the chance to enter specific feedback.
The review is transmitted in real time to the hotelier via Expedia Partner Central, which is the self-service suite of online tools hotels use to interact with Expedia. This gives the hoteliers the opportunity to act upon the feedback and avoid a potentially negative trip review.
Sell Tonight makes it faster and simpler for hoteliers to push out same-day rates and availability to Expedia.com and Hotels.com customers around the world, in addition to the more than 80 million app downloads. It also informs hotels in real time of same-day rates in their market, providing them with the details they need to increase same-day bookings.