Atlantis, Paradise Island hosted the 2013 Caribbean Travel Marketplace. // © 2013 Atlantis, Paradise Island, Bahamas
Last month, buyers and suppliers from around the world converged on the Atlantis, Paradise Island, Bahamas for the 2013 Caribbean Travel Marketplace, the region's biggest tourism marketing event. This was the second consecutive year the event was held at the Atlantis.
Buzzwords at this year’s marketplace were “tablets” and “smartphones.” It seemed that every supplier and destination was seeking fresh ways to capture this new, eminently mobile market. There seemed to be a tangible feeling of economic confidence in the air, which had been missing from the marketplace during the last three years.
There was the usual call for more cooperation between Caribbean countries, more sustainable development and practices and more affordable inter-island air travel. There was one initiative that did point to a sense of cooperation – the announcement that the re-launch of the CaribbeanTravel.com website would take place at the end of this month. The regional marketing website, developed by the Caribbean Tourism Development Company (CTDC) and jointly owned by the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) and the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), is four years in the making.
“We’ll never go back to the Dark Ages of adversarial relationships in the marketplace,” said Richard J. Doumeng, CHTA president and CTDC co-chair. Doumeng spoke enthusiastically about the site’s capabilities, saying it functioned well beyond a typical website, and instead was an online portal promoting the CHTA’s member hotels, resorts, restaurants and activities.
The new site is clearly geared towards consumers, but it will also link to a travel agent section and presumably function well as a sales tool for agents.
There was a giant looming over the marketplace — a mega-resort with a $3.5 billion price tag, the Baha Mar Resort in Nassau’s Cable Beach, scheduled to open in December 2014. It was noted at the conference that Nassau would need an additional 500,000 seats of airlift to fill Baha Mar. The beachfront complex will have four upscale hotel brands: Grand Hyatt, Mondrian, Rosewood and the centerpiece property, the Baha Mar Casino & Hotel. There will also be an 18-hole golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus, a Vegas-style casino, two spas and a glittering assortment of shops and restaurants. There was talk in the marketplace as to whether Nassau/Paradise Island could support two titans such as the 3,970-room Atlantis and 2,200-room Baha Mar. While both resorts will be family-friendly, it’s thought that the Atlantis will continue its strong appeal for the family market and Baha Mar will capture sophisticated adult travelers looking for a Vegas-style experience in the Caribbean.
Upcoming developments at the Atlantis include new restaurants, an expanded casino with a new poker room, and a manatee interaction attraction.
“These creatures are not taken out of the wild,” said George Markantonis, president of Kerzner International Bahamas. “Instead, they are injured manatees that are rescued after being hit by watercraft.”
Markantonis noted that the Atlantis had a 23 percent repeat visitor rate. When he was asked whether or not the Atlantis would ban smoking in the casino, he answered with a resolute no.
“In our opinion, banning smoking is what led to the downfall of Atlantic City’s gaming,” he said.
AMResorts, coming off a busy 2012, announced an impressive slate of new openings in 2013. These include the April opening of Sunscape Sabor in Cozumel, the November opening of Now Onyx in Punta Cana and the December opening of Secrets Puerto Los Cabos. In December 2014 the company will also open its first resort in Costa Rica, Dreams Las Mareas Resort & Spa.
The Best Western Premier will open in mid-March in Petion-Ville, Haiti. The four-star property will be managed by Aimbridge Hospitality and will be the first full-service U.S. affiliated chain hotel in Haiti. The hotel will have a spa, pool and a restaurant serving French-Caribbean fusion cuisine. Rooms will have mountain and city views. With Haiti’s tourism market still recovering, it’s predicted that the hotel will initially cater to the business and NGO market.
Construction is underway on the 204-room Westin Puntacana Resort. The beachfront hotel will be only five minutes from the Punta Cana International Airport. Unlike many of the all-inclusive properties in the region, the five-star Westin Punta Cana resort will operate on the EP plan. Even so, it will target the family market. Guests will have access to the Puntacana Resort & Club, where they can enjoy a $32 million Tom Defazio-designed 45-hole golf course, a Six Senses spa, an equestrian center and a range of restaurants.
Working off a $132 million bond, St. Maarten’s Princess Juliana Airport will embark on an improvement and expansion program that will include runway rehabilitation, new taxiways, additional parking space and a new storage facility for fuel.
The St. Lucia Tourist Board rolled out a new brand campaign with the tagline, “Lift Your Senses.” Headlines from the campaign tie each of the five senses to the variety of ways to stay and play on Saint Lucia to reach a variety of markets, including honeymoon and wedding, family, adventure, dive and yachting.
In 2014, Caribbean Travel Marketplace will be held in Jamaica at the Montego Bay Convention Centre.