Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association Conference Promises Good Times Ahead
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The Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association’s Caribbean Marketplace conference, held annually in January at the height of the winter travel season, frequently provides valuable insight into the coming year in Caribbean tourism.
This year’s event, held at the Atlantis resort in Nassau, Bahamas, offered an image of Caribbean travel clearly on the rebound from the tough times endured in the aftermath of 2008’s global economic recession.
Indeed, most attendees at January’s gathering shared positive developments regarding Caribbean tourism. Noteworthy developments included news of a strong 2015 performance by Caribbean hotel and resorts and a multitude of new hotel and resort launches.
Hospitality research firm STR may have provided the most significant news, announcing Caribbean hotels and resorts posted record-breaking average daily rate (ADR) of $228 in 2015, a 4.7 percent increase over 2014. The properties also reported revenue per available room (RevPar) of $158, a 7.4 percent increase over 2014. Both figures are the highest annual figures ever reported to STR.
Top travel consultants say the higher rates cited in the STR report were reflected in the marketplace and should continue in 2016. “We did see higher average daily rates in our inventory,” said Tom Carr, owner of All Inclusive Outlet in Lexington, Ky. He added, “Sales are solid in the near term from what I'm seeing.”
While the higher rates are welcome news for Caribbean hoteliers, for consumer travelers they place greater importance on booking their vacations earlier.
“I think pricing overall has been higher and, yes, people are paying for it,” said Jennifer Donscecz, president of VIP Vacations. “We have a hard time doing last-minute [reservations] because things are so booked,” she said. “Even for this February, we are scrambling to find space at our usual resorts we like recommending.”
Several Caribbean destinations used the conference to announce new hotel and resort launches. Officials at the Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board provided details on one of the most highly anticipated launches, the 2016 opening of the 245-room Warwick Paradise Island, a luxury, adults-only, all-inclusive resort.
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That project joins several recent launches and others scheduled across 2016. The 94-room Le Simon Hotel, a boutique luxury property, will open in March on the historic waterfront in Fort-de-France, Martinique. In January Melia Hotels International opened 226-room Melia Braco Village in Jamaica while also completing a $19 million renovation of its 694-room Melia Nassau Beach property.
Also this month the former Brac Reef Beach Resort re-opened as the Cayman Brac Beach Resort. In December the former Moon Dance Resort in Negril, Jamaica re-opened as the boutique luxury property Cliff Hotel, set along a five-acre beachside site.
Bermuda’s Hamilton Princess & Beach Club will debut a two-year, $100 million restoration in June. Atlantis is renovating its Cove and Royal Towers sections this year; the iconic mega-resort will also offer concerts starring Grammy Award-winning country music star Travis Tritt and illusionist Rob Lake.
Entertainment will also be in focus in Saint Lucia, where the Saint Lucia Jazz and Arts Festival will celebrate its 25th year with appearances Marc Anthony, Shaggy, 10-time Grammy winner George Benson, legendary soul unit Kool and the Gang, and soft rock stylists Air Supply. Scheduled for April 29 to May 8, the 10-day event will feature a tribute to Nobel Prize-winning Saint Lucian poet and playwright Sir Derek Walcott.
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Officials also announced new tourism infrastructure projects in countries across the region. Curacao Airport Partners is planning an extensive expansion of Curacao International Airport slated for completion in 2018. Curacao’s government also announced plans for a $43 million cruise ship pier, the island’s second, in the Otrobanda district.
Similarly, the Cayman Islands is expanding Owen Roberts International airport while also planning a $150 million cruise ship pier and terminal. St. Kitts will launch a new $31 million cruise ship pier later this year.
Officials were careful not to allow the many positive developments to cloud their view of challenges ahead. Regional officials are closely monitoring the Zika virus’ impact on Caribbean tourism. The Bahamas, Belize and Grenada have recently worked to address criminal incidents that have impacted travelers. Meanwhile investors, contractors, hotel partners and thousands of former employees await a resolution of the $3.5 billion Baha Mar imbroglio.
Yet overall January conference attendees left the impression that Caribbean tourism is poised for another strong year. Furthermore, stakeholders seem determined to fulfill the year’s promise.
As Wykeham McNeill, tourism minister for Jamaica said recently, "Bringing in more people than our current population is no ordinary feat...and we are not done as yet."
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