Caribbean Trends

written by | Posted on December 9th, 2013

Spa pavilion at Hotel Saint-Barth Isle de France.

Spa pavilion at Hotel Saint-Barth Isle de France.

I called my dentist after writing Six 2012 Trends that Are Here to Stay (December 2012 issue). “Predictions are always tricky,” I told her. “How should I proceed if my forecasts turn out to be so wrong-headed that I need to extract my foot from my mouth?”

Now, one year later and armed with my dentist’s advice—plus some tips from smart travel agents who never need foot-in-mouth extraction—I’ll show you how those trends are holding up.

green hotels

The movement to be, or at least look, eco-conscious gathered so much steam this year that for the November 2013 issue update on what’s hot for 2014, we focused on The Greening of the Caribbean. The article covered efforts to develop sustainable energy, protect shores from climate change, and restore reefs and forests and historical landmarks (ecotourism = economics). It also named specific Caribbean resorts that are in the vanguard of this movement.

“Many resorts… continue to innovate and improve their green policies,” says travel agent Ann Cappa, A.C.C., D.S., of Caribbean and Beyond. As an example, she points to Iberostar, “just one of the chains that have been awarded Green Globe certification for the reduction of greenhouse gases.”

Even resorts that may not look green are pure emerald when you look into their air-conditioning, water conservation, refuse disposal, and other systems, as I did this year at the Aruba Marriott Resort (August 2013 issue onsite) and the San Juan Marriott Resort (marriott.com), where my bride and I celebrated our 25th anniversary.

Little things caught my eye, too. At Saint Lucia’s all-inclusive Rendezvous (theromanticholiday.com) couples resort, every room had a pitcher with a water filter instead of just disposable water bottles. I’d seen that before (e.g. at The Settlers Inn in Hawley, PA), but now it’s even happening in Caribbean hotels that don’t boast about their eco-consciousness.

 

adventures outside the hotel gates

In 2013, I was struck by how many hotel concierges and other staffers urge guests to leave the premises and see their island, even if that meant selling fewer rum punches at poolside. Just for starters, I experienced this at:

• The aforementioned Aruba and San Juan Marriott resorts (Aruba Specialist Course at edu.recommend.com/aruba)

Carlisle Bay (campbellgrayhotels.com/carlisle-bay/home) in Antigua (which I’ll update you about in an upcoming issue)

• Both Trinidad and Tobago, an island destination that is all about adventures (July 2013 issue)

• Guadeloupe Islands (see special travel planner in the October 2013 issue and edu.recommend.com/guadeloupe)

• Saint Lucia (see the Saint Lucia Travel Agent Specialist Program in the November 2013 issue)

• The Westin Grand Cayman Seven-Mile Beach Resort & Spa (August 2013 issue)

Puntacana Resort and Club (puntacana.com) in the Dominican Republic (November 2013 issue and recommend.com/themes/beach/new-cap-cana-condos-debut-in-june/), notwithstanding its inaccurate reputation as an all-inclusive destination where nobody leaves the premises.

I could go on listing examples, but you get the point. The November The Greening of the Caribbean story also explored the increase in eco- (and cultural, historical, etc.) adventures, and since last month yet more developments have been announced, such as the new effort to identify National Heritage Landmarks in Grenada, the declaration of a region-wide war on lionfish (which decimate native fish), and the initial steps toward a new eco-adventures reserve on the old Ceiba naval base in Puerto Rico.

wellness

This 2012 trend, too, is alive and well. “In terms of resort facilities, gyms and spas are really important,” says Konstantinos Bastas, luxury travel advisor at Protravel International. “People like to know that a gym/fitness facility with class offerings (for example, yoga or water classes) is available…. Many spas now feature treatments based on local ingredients as well.”

Thus, the programs and facilities in the 2012 trends story have even more competition now. The relaunched Long Bay Beach Club (longbay.com) on Tortola boasts a new massage facility, and the treatment rooms at the recently renovated Hotel Saint-Barth Isle de France (isle-de-france.com) relaxed me just by my stepping into them. Sandals La Source Grenada (sandals.com), which opens this month, is emphasizing its state-of-the-art spa and fitness equipment and programs, as do the new Sandals Barbados and Aruba’s Blue Residences (bluearuba.com) condo resort, which opens in March.

The new Blue Haven Resort and Marina in Turks & Caicos (bluehaventci.com) keeps its fitness center open 24 hours a day, while the reinvented Caneel Bay Resort (caneelbay.com) on St. John created an M’Ocean Studio for yoga and fitness classes. Speaking of classes, this yoga-phobic editor tried the flavor of the month, paddleboard yoga, at both the Aruba Marriott Resort and Westin Grand Cayman. Candidly, I find either of these activities challenging enough without combining the two, but I’ll admit that everyone else loved the classes, and they’ll go back for more. This year, I also worked out in the Westin Grand Cayman’s fitness center, not something I normally do in the Caribbean, but I just couldn’t resist the resort’s new, friction-free ellipticals, stationary bicycles and treadmills.

Like the hotels, more Caribbean villas have added fitness and spa services, too (e.g. see this issue’s education program on Anguilla). And the mind bogles when contemplating the spa and fitness facilities at Nassau’s Baha Mar (bahamar.com), which opens next winter.

The takeaway? Today companies dare not open a Caribbean resort or even put a high-end villa on the market without providing excellent spa, fitness and wellness services. Not every guest will use these amenities—there are still plenty of folks who are happy to simply snooze by the pool—but for those who do want up-to-date wellness services, the presence or absence of these amenities is part of the deal.

caribbean as culinary destination

A few months ago, I took street food tours of Trinidad and Tobago (gotrinidadandtobago.com), whose marketing people beat the drum in 2013 about the islands’ unique Indo-Caribbean cuisine, and well they should. When I finish this article I’m flying south for another culinary tour, this time of Anguilla (ivisitanguilla.com), which has become a hot ticket for foodies, and then I’ll head to the Guadeloupe Islands (myguadeloupeislands.com), where farm-based rum producers now welcome visitors, organic farms are thriving, and several offer tours and organic restaurants. Think Tuscany, but with beaches.

Nice, because I can remember when some Caribbean resorts were still serving instant coffee, and conventional wisdom said that you visited the islands in spite of the food. These days, though, the relaunched Caneel Bay Resort is the norm: It has given the Sugar Mill Restaurant, which was already well regarded, an updated menu, chef, and competitively chic name: Zozo’s, and the resort has even added a gelateria. Meanwhile, at November’s World Travel Market, Pop-Up Barbados promoted that island via its food.

“Today people want to have variety,” says Bastas. “They don’t want to be ‘stuck’ eating at a hotel’s main restaurant every night. Special dinner nights, BBQs, and a variety of restaurants on property are important.” Exactly, even for people who aren’t primarily culinary tourists.

Therefore, the new RIU Palace Jamaica (riu.com) has five restaurants, not counting bars. AMResort’s new Breathless Punta Cana Resort and Spa (amresorts.com) features 13 restaurants serving national and fusion cuisines, and Puerto Rico’s El Conquistador Resort & Las Casitas Village (elconresort.com) has 23! Again, the thought of Baha Mar looms large. Will we even be able to fathom all the restaurants without a scorecard?

Awesome Caribbean Weddings offers highly customized weddings.

Awesome Caribbean Weddings offers highly customized weddings.

customized weddings

This wedding was a sham. Sure, the bride and bridegroom looked fabulous, the background musician was worthy of a top jazz club, the setting was an 18th century military building with formidable stonework and flowering vines, and the reception featured excellent food, drinks, and musicians. So why a sham? Awesome Caribbean Weddings (awesomecaribbeanweddings.com) had staged it to show attendees at the Saint Lucia Weddings Symposium that they could do anything. “All our weddings are bespoke,” said ACW’s Kayt Cooper after the blessed event. One of her clients offers this example: “We made a unique request for our wedding: authentic pirates, authentic pirate ship at sunset. Awesome Caribbean Weddings not only met our expectations but exceeded them.”

Clearly, Sandals Resorts was onto something back when they designed a program called Your Wedding. Your Style, and their approach continues to thrive. “Sandals Resorts has turned the process into an interactive experience reflective of the unique style and personality of each couple,” says Marsha-Ann Brown, Sandals’ director of romance. In the A Marriage Made in Heaven feature in the June 2013 issue, Brown noted that, “The bride and groom are hand-held throughout the entire process by a well-trained team of individuals that’s able to showcase the brand and deliver on some of our unique offerings.” Keyword: “unique.”

It’s not just independent wedding planners or large resorts that are emphasizing unique weddings. Even small-scale Moon Dance Cliffs (moondanceresorts.com/cliffs) in Negril has an online wedding planner for customizing each event.

And talk about customizing things, this year Kocierge (as in “kosher”) launched its first season in St. Maarten, St. Barths, and Anguilla. Saint Martin Le Château des Palmiers (islandhideaways.com) offers kosher vacations and events in a 5-bedroom oceanside villa and a 4-bedroom garden villa. The Dominican Republic’s Kosher Crown Villas, a Lifestyle Holidays Vacation Resort (lifestylekoshervacations.com), is going gangbusters, too. But how unique dare we go? What if, say, your clients wants kosher catering and an underwater ceremony? Answer: the Curaçao Marriott Resort (marriott.com). That’s customization.

girlfriend getaways

So far, I’ve avoided putting my foot in my mouth with last year’s predictions, but maybe not on this one. Let me start with a confession: Whereas I’ve personally experienced every other trend in the Caribbean, I have never participated in a girlfriend getaway. Disappointing, I know. (But then again, some of my colleagues at other publications have never gone deep-sea fishing with a stogie in their mouth. So there.)

This much is clear: Whereas properties continue to market girlfriend getaway packages, they can no longer claim that the ladies-only vacation is a radically innovative notion. The buzz has moved on to “green” and other trends mentioned above, which may help explain why 2012’s steady stream of eblasts about BFF trips dwindled in 2013. Also, while many women still take girlfriend getaways, they don’t all buy Girlfriend Getaway packages. As happens when planning a wedding, they now demand customization. Not a bad thing; that’s where travel agents come in.

So should girlfriend getaways no longer be part of a “trends that are here to stay story”? Too soon to tell, but if so, allow me to revisit my dentist for a refresher course on removing my foot from my mouth.

more trends?

DECOR: Time was almost every Caribbean hotel featured either formal colonial, casual Caribbean, or uninspired functional style, but then contemporary villas and hotels (e.g. Amanyara) showed a new way. Now, for example, the San Juan Marriott Resort’s dramatically renovated rooms feature a modern, urbane design whose beige tones evoke the beach, but with abstract subtlety. Will scores of other hotels replace Chippendale or playroom pastels with sleek chic?

INCREASED ACCEPTANCE OF GAY VISITORS: The Dutch and French islands have long been pretty LGBT-friendly, but some English islands had an iffy reputation. These days there’s at least one hotel on almost every island that welcomes gay visitors and commitment ceremonies, and even the Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis has spoken out on behalf of gays.

FESTIVALS R US: “Today almost every island has some sort of music festival—jazz, blues, reggae, etc. Jamaica, Barbados, the Caribbean Sea Jazz Festival in Aruba, the Curaçao North Sea Jazz Festival, St. Kitts, Aruba Soul Beach, and others,” says travel agent Ann Cappa, A.C.C., D.S., of Caribbean and Beyond. This dovetails nicely with an undeniable trend discussed elsewhere in this story: the eagerness of hotel guests to go forth into the island.