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When the executive team of Aimbridge Hospitality was in Manhattan last summer to promote Jewel Resorts, an all-inclusive brand of Jamaican properties, conversation about wedding trends took a turn for the footloose and fancy-free. One of the most popular customized Jewel Resorts wedding offerings is a “shoe check,” where the entire wedding party removes its footwear at the door (or rather, just outside the guest seating since all of these weddings are outdoors).
According to Scott Robbins, general manager of Jewel Runaway Bay Beach & Golf Resort, one of the most requested wedding party photographs is from the knees down, focused only on the bare feet of the bride, groom, parents and wedding party.
This is truly next-level island style — and it speaks to a new definition of luxury in the Caribbean.
“For that particular bride-to-be or groom-to-be who wants comfortable, wants casual and wants the beach, the ability to do your wedding and reception barefoot in the sand is such a luxury,” Robbins said. “That’s what people dream of.”
Of course, as a tropical destination, the Caribbean has always offered some level of barefoot luxury. But thanks to deep-seated colonial influences, the shoes are typically expected to be put back on in time for dinner. Some resorts even hang on to semiformal dress codes (no shorts, no sandals) for the evening meal service.
However, an increasing number of Caribbean hoteliers are realizing that luxury is more about permission to relax and enjoy a beautiful setting, rather than the traditional standards of white-glove butler service and dressing up formally for dinner.
Ocean Club Resorts in posh Turks and Caicos has an entire activity page inviting guests to “Learn the Art of Doing Nothing at All.” Its two Grace Bay Beach properties have always catered to families, touted an unplugged/dressed-down vibe and never tried to join the ranks of polished jet-setter hangouts. This is a location where guests can fall out of bed and roll onto one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Why should they ever be bothered to put on shoes?
“Ocean Club Resorts’ definition of ‘barefoot luxury’ is no shoes, no rules and absolutely no rush,” said Tom Lewis, managing director of the company. “Just easy island breezes, easy comfort and easy times.”
Other luxury properties in the destination have adopted similarly lenient policies. Beach House, a 21-suite boutique luxury property under the Orchid Resorts & Escapes umbrella, has a “no socks allowed” mandate, for example.
The Bahamas’ colonial British traditions run just as strong as those in Jamaica or the British Virgin Islands. But, many properties in the destination are beginning to let go of traditional formality.
Having just debuted a property-wide renovation, Coral Sands Hotel on Harbour Island has dropped any remnants of colonial formality in favor of a laid-back Bahamian beach vibe.
“Our new renovation invites guests to come as they are, sand between toes included,” said Silma Sherman, co-owner of Coral Sands.
This makes a lot of sense, since this sand — which inspired the hotel’s name and its claim to fame — is from one of the world’s most beautiful pink-sand beaches.
“You don’t need to be dressed up to enjoy an elevated degree of island luxury,” Sherman said. “We believe our guests should feel both pampered and completely at ease.”
Wide-open spaces, natural wood furnishings and the aforementioned relaxed Bahamian-inspired design sensibility keep the beach setting as the main attraction.
When selling luxury, there’s a fine line between creating an unforgettable experience and making guests feel out of their element. In the past, even all-inclusives would implement a dress standard. But, the required dress didn’t necessarily suit the experience.
Now, when you’re helping clients choose a destination — whether it’s for a wedding, an incentive trip or a family getaway — and they tell you they want comfort and luxury, you can offer them an ever-expanding choice of great Caribbean properties.
Coral Sands Hotelwww.coralsands.com
Jamaica Tourist Boardwww.visitjamaica.com
Ocean Club Resortswww.oceanclubresorts.com
The Islands of the Bahamaswww.bahamas.com
Turks and Caicos Tourist Boardwww.turksandcaicostourism.com