Selling the Caribbean

Written by  Melanie Reffes

CARIBBEANThe agenda was ambitious at the annual State of the Industry Conference (SOTIC) held this year at the Hilton Barbados Resort. The pre-eminent tourism gathering in the region, the conference was organized by the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) in collaboration with Barbados’ Ministry of Tourism and International Transport and the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. (BTMI). With the theme Honouring Our Legacy, Defining Our Future, the week-long event was action-central for tourism influencers from hotel and airline executives and resort owners to directors of tourism, government officials and travel agents.
Addressing a record 520 delegates, Richard Sealy, minister of tourism for  Barbados, reported an impressive spike in visitors to the Caribbean. He said, “The region recorded 28.7 million arrivals in 2015, which means we are on target to reach 30 million which is a very healthy state of affairs.” Echoing his optimism, Hugh Riley, secretary general for the CTO added, “The Caribbean is on track for another banner year. Our task now is to ensure all key metrics keep pace with arrivals.” SOTIC 2017 will take place next fall in Grenada.

Mover and Shaker
As CEO of the signature brand of all-inclusives in the Caribbean, Adam Stewart wooed the crowd as he extolled the vacation appeal of Sandals Resorts International. “At Sandals, we hire for enthusiasm and we teach the skill,“ he told delegates. A maverick on a mission, the feisty son of Gordon “Butch“ Stewart, founder of the resort chain, told the crowd that mediocrity in the resort business leads to complacency. “While the US continues to be the bread basket for many of our regions, American travelers are sophisticated consumers who cross age and wage, yearn for authenticity and are courted by destinations around the world. With 23 resorts in nine countries, Stewart noted Sandals remains the preeminent brand of all-inclusives. He explains, “Sitting on a beach sipping a Pina Colada is nice but it no longer satisfies. There is more to our Caribbean and our visitors want to see it and experience it.“

Island Vibes
Sandals Resorts announced twelve additional over-the-water bungalows at Sandals Royal Caribbean in Montego Bay including an Island Butler Honeymoon Bungalow. Bookable for arrivals as of February 1, the suites have glass-vision floor panels for underwater views and rates that start at $2,652 per night. At Sandals Barbados, 222 new rooms will open next year, bringing the total room count to 502.
In Anguilla, arrivals are up 9.5% for the first quarter and another 5% for the second quarter of this year. “Our key overseas markets have recorded growth with the result that we are ahead of target projections for 2016,“ said Cardigan Connor, parliamentary secretary of tourism. “We continue to attract a celebrity clientele, drawn to Anguilla by our low key, laid back welcome, and vibrant culinary scene.
In the British Virgin Islands, Director of Tourism Sharon Flax-Brutus noted that a niche market that brings in visitors is food, with the Food Fete in November a perennial favorite. “Culinary celebrations are ideal for families, singles and groups of travelers, and include The Taste of Tortola, On the Rocks Bar Crawl in Virgin Gorda and the very popular Lobster Crawl in Anegada.”

New on the beach
Adding to the allure of the island, Four Seasons Anguilla opened as the second Four Seasons in the Caribbean, after Four Seasons Nevis set up shop more than twenty years ago. Elegant on coralline bluffs, the new resort is on the site of the former Viceroy Anguilla, and sits on a half-mile sandy beach. Catnip for soleil-seekers, 166 rooms, suites, residences and villas come with Four Seasons signatures like infinity pools, stellar service and theatrical sunsets nightly. Family-friendly with three pools, the resort comes with tennis courts, climbing walls, water sports and a spa with a myriad of treatments including a few tailored just for men. Kid-pleasers include sunfish sailing, windsurfing, cycling and steel pan music lessons. Not for the faint-of-appetite, Cobá is fine dining on the bluff, Bamboo Bar is Caribbean casual while Sunset Lounge, adjacent to the saltwater infinity pool, is the crown jewel popular with moneyed hipsters who toss price to the wind for heady cocktails stirred with aged rum and Cuban cigars.
Aptly named for the juicy fruit that grows in the countryside, Pineapple Beach Club Antigua re-opens as an Elite Island Resort. Formerly the Sandals Grand Pineapple, the latest rebranding marks the fourth Elite Island Resort on the island after Galley Bay, St. James’s Club and Verandah Resort. On thirty acres overlooking Long Bay on the Caribbean coast, the all-inclusive adults-only is thirty minutes from the V.C. Bird International Airport and adjacent to the Devil’s Bridge National Park. With views of the gardens and the beach, 180 rooms come in five categories varying in size and price. For the get up-and-go crowd, there’s plenty to do like Hobie-Cat sailing, windsurfing, kayaking and snorkeling. A pair of freshwater pools is for those not keen on footprints in the sand and to burn off the buffet calories, tennis, water aerobics and beach volleyball are energetic options.
In Jamaica, the name matches the views at the Royalton Blue Waters opening in Montego Bay on November 1. On White Bay, the all-inclusive aims to please with 228 rooms, Splash Park and a funky lobby with a water canal. Perks include free unlimited long distance calls to North America and complimentary Wi-Fi. No reservations needed at eleven restaurants like the grandiose buffet, jerk hut, Hunter’s Steakhouse, Grazie Italian Trattoria, Jade for sushi, Calypso for a taste of the island and Armadillo for Tex-Mex. Worth the splurge is membership to the Diamond Club which buys access to an exclusive lounge, butler service and a pillow menu. Adjacent to the Royalton White Sands, guests can play and eat at both for the price of one.
Also in Montego Bay, Riu Reggae opens on November 19 as the 24th all-inclusive in the Spanish resort chain. Adjacent to the Riu Palace Jamaica and Riu Montego Bay, the adults-only is a new-build with 454 rooms and suites. Perks mimic other resorts in the Riu chain like a Renova spa for stress-busting rubdowns, infinity pools and Wi-Fi that works on the beach.
In The Bahamas, Warwick Paradise Island Bahamas is a new adults-only with views of Nassau and Paradise Island from Nassau Harbour. Owners of the storied Warwick New York that was built by William Randolph Hearst as a city getaway for his Hollywood friends, Warwick Hotels and Resorts invested $40 million in the Bahamian all-inclusive. Thirty minutes from the Lynden Pindling International Airport, the hotel sits on the site of the former Flagler Hotel and comes with four restaurants, Hog Bar, Rum Cay Bar and an entertainment center called the Junkanoo Beat that heats up with live shows and DJ’s.
On December 15, French Leave Resort on the pretty Out Island called Eleuthera will join Marriott’s Autograph Collection. On a trophy pink sand beach near Governor’s Harbour, the hideaway comes with just four two-bedroom waterfront villas with twelve more to open by the end of the year. Extras include a beach concierge, IPads for ordering room service, freshwater pool, fitness center, landscaped lawn for special events, mega-yacht slips and fine dining in 1648 Bar & Grille.
Once a mainstay on Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman, Courtyard by Marriott closed following damage from Hurricane Rita in 2008. Eventually demolished, the hot spot on the beach about a mile north of the iconic Ritz-Carlton opens as Kimpton Seafire Resort & Spa on November 17. The first Kimpton outside the US and the first new hotel in Grand Cayman in a decade, 266-room hotel is design-driven with a traditional Caymanian catboat suspended from the library’s soaring ceiling and interconnected biking and walking paths that lead to the main pool and beach. Island firsts include a beach boardwalk and the only Hammam steam room (like a Turkish Bath) in the Cayman Islands. On the list of vacation must-haves are two pools; one for families and one for grown-ups without kids, spa with seven treatment rooms and six restaurants under the watchful eye of Kimpton veteran Chef Massimo De Francesca. Picky eaters have plenty to choose from like Mediterranean entrees at Ave, Tapas plates at Avecita, snacks at Coccoloba, build-your-own Bellini bar and a guacamole station.
Just in time for the holidays, The Shore Club opens in December in Providenciales, or Provo, as it’s better known; the most developed island in the Turks and Caicos, and where the international flights arrive. The first and only resort on Long Bay Beach (the more famous Grace Bay Beach is where the other resorts are located) spans more than 800 feet of unflustered white sand. With a vibe more like a private island than a resort, the high-end new build is a pair of low-rise buildings with 106 suites and six villas. Formerly the general manager of The Palms, Karen Whitt joins the new resort as VP, sales and marketing and isn’t shy trumpeting its appeal. ”The resort stretches across a shallow bank of water that’s a shade of blue you’ve never seen before, with each element of development meticulously curated, from the crushed coral stone walls to the tiles which have been painted by hand.” Opening rates start at $700 and include butler service.

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