Pleasant Expansion

Tour operator moves into Caribbean, offers packages to well-known Jamaica resorts

By: Kevin Brass

As part of a new push into the Caribbean, Pleasant Holidays is making its first foray into Jamaica, offering packages with Sandals, Ritz Carlton and other well-known resorts.

“Jamaica will be a major focus,” said Pleasant Holidays President and CEO Tim Irwin.

Best known for developing excursions to Hawaii and the South Pacific, Pleasant, one of the largest West Coast tour operators, is expected to provide a badly needed infusion of West Coast travelers to Jamaica.

“This is a bonanza for Jamaica,” said Donnie Dawson, West Coast regional manager for the Jamaica Tourist Board. “We’ve been trying to develop the West Coast for many years.”

By involving Pleasant’s established base of travel agents, who may not have been booking Jamaica, Dawson expects Pleasant to increase total traffic to the island.

“I don’t think it will steal existing business, I think it will bring in new business,” Dawson said. “We’re dealing with a whole different group of travel agents who we haven’t reached in the past.”

While several West Coast tour operators book Jamaica, the West provides a relatively small number of Jamaica tourists.

In 2000, only about 7% of Jamaica’s 942,500 U.S. visitors came from the West Coast. From January to July this year, 40,000 tourists traveled from the West Coast to Jamaica, down about 9% from 2001.

Pleasant’s marketing muscle should boost that number. Air Jamaica’s plans to double the number of nonstop flights from Los Angeles to Montego Bay next spring should also help.

The Tourist Board emphasized that Jamaica is almost equal distance from the West Coast as is Hawaii.

“That’s a strong message,” Dawson said. “I think in 2003, if all things remain equal, [traffic from] the West will really skyrocket.”

Pleasant is already booking trips to the Caribbean for travel starting in January 2003. In Jamaica, Pleasant is working with such established properties as Half Moon Golf, Tennis & Beach Club, the Ritz-Carlton Rose Hall, Grand Lido Negril, Renaissance Jamaica Grande Resort and the adults-only Hedonism III. In addition to opening a new territory, for Pleasant the move into Jamaica also marks its first aggressive partnerships with all-inclusive resorts. Except for a scattering of properties, Pleasant traditionally avoided all-inclusive properties.

But upscale, all-inclusive resorts, particularly the Sandals and Beaches chains, have a well-established reputation within the industry, Irwin said.

“I’ve personally been down there and experienced the product,” Irwin says. “And I must say that Sandals really does treat you like a guest in their house.”

Among other amenities, Sandals allows guests access to their other properties, which is a particularly popular perk in Jamaica, Irwin said.

“Most people stay on the property and only go off on activities,” Irwin said. “They tend not to rent cars.”

Pleasant is working with more than 70 properties in the Caribbean, including hotels on Aruba, Grand Cayman, St. Lucia, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas.

“We realized that if we are going to grow and be relevant to our retail partners, then we have to expand our product offerings,” Irwin said.

Pleasant has struck deals with the Jamaica Tourist Board and other regional agencies for co-op advertising.

“We’ve been welcomed very nicely in the Caribbean,” Irwin said. “The travel boards and hoteliers are really interested in expanding their reach on the West Coast.”