7 Crucial Things Tour Operators Always Look for in a Caribbean Resort
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Tour operators and vacation wholesalers maintain large inventories of hotels, often comprising hundreds of individual properties. A wholesaler wants to be able to present a large selection with a wide variety of choice to clients, as well as competitive prices. But having a large number of hotels in its portfolio will not help a wholesaler very much if any of the hotels do not measure up to the standard of quality the wholesaler must maintain to maintain its reputation with customers and travel agents.
One bad hotel out of a thousand good ones can drive away customers from the whole product line and undermine the reputation of the tour operator, so no wholesaler can afford a lapse in quality. Wholesalers must walk a fine line between having large selections of hotels and making sure to maintain consistent quality, in keeping with the company’s brand values.
But quality is just a single word to define a many-layered set of aspects of a hotel or resort that figure into a client’s satisfaction and pleasure when staying at a hotel. The famous Conrad Hilton statement that what is important in a hotel is “location, location, location” may be true as far as it goes. But given that the Caribbean is overall the best beach destination in the world for the American traveler, the destination is only the first of many considerations for wholesalers selecting hotels.
Selection of hotels within the Caribbean is a highly complex matter, as expressed by Jeffrey Lee, Caribbean product director for Pleasant Holidays.
“Pleasant Holidays’ Caribbean portfolio is currently comprised of 24 island destinations; 280 hotels, resorts and villas; two cruise lines offering 10 itineraries combined; and dozens of great activities that let travelers experience the best attractions of these tropical islands. It’s like an intricate mosaic with hundreds of individual pieces artfully working together to create one memorable picture. The challenge is to continue to expand the picture with new additions while maintaining the cohesiveness of the whole.”
So what does a wholesaler look for when selecting a Caribbean hotel for its portfolio of offerings?
“We try not to make it too complex,” said John Caldwell, president of Delta Vacations. “We keep some guiding principles in mind when adding properties and keeping track of your brand proposition and your service proposition for customers.”
Location, Location, Location
Of course it is not everything, but location is still primary in the hierarchy of values that goes into selecting a hotel. As Pleasant Holidays Jeffrey Lee, puts it: Proximity. “Does Pleasant Holidays have the right hotels where travelers want to stay? For example, is there adequate inventory near the beach, tourist sights, local attractions and natural wonders? Do we offer secluded resorts for those who want to get away from it all? Is there convenient transfer service between the airport and the resort?"
People talk about the Caribbean as if it were a single destination. In fact it is a highly complex collection of destinations varying greatly in both geographical features and culture. So the location issue is a big one. There are many many locations offering a great variety of different features. A tour operator must learn about all those variations in order to make the right selections within the regions for clients with varying tastes and needs.
"The Caribbean offers travelers the ultimate escape through its various islands, all ranging in culture and personality," said James Phillips, president of Travel Bound. "As a wholesaler, we aim to understand and meet travelers' needs coupled with the various identities of the region. Some customers are looking for a resort experience that offers all-inclusive services, while others love exploring an island and really dipping into the culture."
Suitability to the American market
As complex as the hotel product is, standards and preferences vary from culture to culture. The Caribbean attracts visitors from all over the world. What suits a German or English guest may not fit for an American customer.
“Apple Vacations’ best-selling Caribbean resorts reflect American preferences the most,” said Tim Mullen, president of Apple Vacations. “Americans gravitate toward upscale, all-inclusive resorts, with high-quality food and attentive service standards. They will also choose a resort that has large guest rooms with comfortable bedding, nice bathroom and shower and quality amenities.”
Suitability to the U.S. market also includes “a focus on quality of delivery (service, food, entertainment, customer service) that allows for a blend of local ‘flavor’ and resort/brand unique selling points and suitability to American sensibilities,” said Mark Benson, vice president of leisure product and sales support for Flight Centre, the parent company of GOGO Vacations. “Wi-Fi is no longer an optional extra to be paid for and is expected, as is top-shelf liquor. Spa services and fitness centers are no longer a luxury. They are, rather, a must.”
Consistency with the wholesaler’s brand proposition
“One of the first [considerations] is fit,” said Jeffrey Lee, Caribbean product director, Pleasant Holidays and Journese. “How does potential new product — be it destinations or accommodations — fit with the current portfolio? What new islands are in high demand? Or for countries in our current portfolio, what regions need to be added to provide better balance?”
"At Travel Impressions are set extremely high," said Jeff Clarke, president of Travel Impressions. "We put our reputation on the line with each and every booking. As a result, we work with resort partners that share our vision. I’m talking about resorts where service levels exceed industry standards. This is as true in the Caribbean as it is anywhere else, but for the Caribbean in particular, culture is also an important element. Our agents look for resorts that exude a Caribbean vibe. It’s what makes a Caribbean vacation unique and is a key selling point when we evaluate partnerships in the region."
Hotel management branding
Branding is more important than ever, and the brand of the hotel can be a major factor in the comfort and satisfaction of a customer. Pleasant Holidays’ Jeffrey Lee says the management company of the hotel is an important criteria in itself for choosing a hotel.
“Chains offer comforting familiarity for the traveler, travel agent and tour operator while independents offer uniqueness that can help keep the portfolio both balanced and fresh,” said Lee. “Brands are very important in the overall selection process since guests are already familiar with the brand standards, service and food quality. Sandals and Beaches Resorts are an example of consistent brand product, customer service, and quality of food and beverage.”
Brand positioning is more complex, and more important than ever. GOGO’s Mark Benson says that having defined brand positioning is one of the major criteria for choosing a hotel. “All-inclusive resorts are no longer generic and are branded more than ever by lifestyle,” said Benson. “What is the resort’s target market? Does this fit into the operator’s customer demographic? Is this a growth market?”
Suitability for a niche market
“There are many things we take into account,” said Caldwell. “Is the property all-inclusive, which is in high demand in the Caribbean? Do they do good job with groups? If we send a group down there, do they know how to handle it? Can they handle that specialty channel, romance and weddings or generational groups? Are they able to accommodate special requests? When we have multiple families traveling and want to have rooms together, can they accommodate them? Some specialize in groups and weddings, others in families. Others are good at taking care of customers that expect a luxury experience.
Ultimately a hotel is shelter, a place to stay, and no matter how wonderful the island, it will not be a pleasant experience if the client gets to the hotel and it is overbooked and their room has been given to someone else. Keeping your reserved room for you is so basic it shouldn’t have to even be mentioned. But in fact, such things do happen, and avoiding such bad experiences is one of the main reasons for booking with a reliable wholesaler. Providing the room is the first requirement. After that comes the whole suite of policies that are part of providing good hotel service in today’s market.
“The first thing we look for are partners who are going to be reliable, who share our deep commitment to providing the excellent customer service that we’re known for,” said John Caldwell, president of Delta Vacations. “Our product team that works down in the Caribbean has decades of experience working with all those partners down there. They are always working with each country and each island and expanding our product line and making sure what we add is a reliable and quality partner. Obviously we want to make sure their quality and reputation is very high so that it matches our brand and that the properties are clean and that they have a great focus on the customer, similar to what we’re providing.”
Excellent customer service
The absolute most important element of hotel operation is customer service. It is called the “hospitality industry” for a reason. Everything else comes after customer service. Starting from that moment when a traveler walks into the hotel after taking what may have been a long and difficult trip to arrive there, every smile, every friendly gesture from the hotel staff is of vital importance in helping that customer achieve their ideal vacation.
“Like other tour operators, we’re selling the same air travel, the same transfer companies, the same tours and many of same properties,” said Delta Vacations’ Caldwell. “The difference is making sure that not only our folks give great service during that process but that the partners that we work with know what our brand proposition is and what we expect when our customers arrive and how to take care of them. We hold them very accountable. Every year we give our Quality Assurance Awards. Our hotels and all-inclusive resorts have to maintain a very high level of customer service to achieve the Quality Assurance award.”
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