Caribbean villa vacations may seem harder to book than hotel stays, if only because if you know five rooms in a 500-room resort, you know all 500 rooms, but that won’t work with villas. Granted, some are in developments where houses are more or less identical, but the majority are one-of-a-kind retreats, so it’s hard to memorize thousands of villa accommodations.
Just the same, it pays—literally—to book villas. We’ll look at Jamaica, the British Virgin Islands, and Antigua, but the argument for villas is the same for any Caribbean island. “A villa vacation is an untapped component of the market and a lucrative niche that can be very profitable,” says Sylvia Delvaille Jones, president of Villas and Apartments Abroad. “By partnering with a reputable and experienced villa supplier, it is also a sensational product to sell.” That’s because good villa suppliers make things easy by helping agents find the right villa(s) for each client’s budget, preferred location, recreational interests, and size of group.
Some suppliers, such as Travel Keys (aka Caribe Villas), The Villa Experience by Travel Impressions, and Villas of Distinction let travel agents incorporate their entire catalogs into the agents’ websites. The Villa Experience, Villas of Distinction, and several other companies (Wimco Villas may soon do this, too) also pay commissions on extras, such as additional staff, car rentals, and massages, in addition to commissions on the villas.
Agents earn good will as well as income, because “villas keep clients very happy,” says Stiles Bennett, president and COO of Wimco. “Villa guests have a high repeat rental rate,” adds Maggie Pristera, marketing manager for Villas of Distinction. What’s more, says Robert Eastman, managing director of The Villa Experience, “this is a product for which having a travel agent makes all the difference…. Agents are an indispensable part of the villa booking process.”
Villas offer clients a sense of exclusivity and “that special VIP touch that will make them feel like celebrities,” says Eastman. Pristera points out that “there are no strangers in the next room or at poolside.” Bennett says, “You don’t have to compete with other guests for space…. Everyone can have their own space when they want quiet time, and then everyone can come together around their private pool, living room, deck or kitchen table.” For that and other reasons, he explains, “villas offer families with children opportunities to spend quality time together. They’re also popular with wedding parties, corporate groups, and groups of friends, particularly if they live in different geographic locations.”
Villa guests have more freedom, too. “They cannot miss breakfast because they overslept, and there is no dress code,” says Jones. “This is true whether clients are a couple staying in a small, secluded cottage or a multi-generational family in a swanky estate with a pool, tennis court, gym, home theater, and a battalion of staffers.”
Because the word “villa” covers a wide range of lodgings, clients need to be assured that they needn’t be Fortune 500 executives to rent one. Granted, some cost $100,000 a week, but others cost just $3,000 a week, even in high season. Low-season rates generally run 30 percent or 40 percent less. Also remind clients that they may be able to afford a fancier villa than they imagine, because kitchens save travelers money on meals.
Paradoxically, even luxury villas make vacationers feel less like outsiders on the islands. Villa vacationers can buy food in the local market or banter with the fishermen who come in with the catch of the day, explains Jones. By contrast, most hotel guests are, ultimately, mere observers.
what comes first, the island or the villa?
That varies, but “most clients start by narrowing down which island they are interested in, based on its attributes, how easy it is to get there, etc. Then we assess their needs and recommend villas for them,” says Bennett. No wonder it’s important to understand each island’s qualities. Whereas many resort guests spend most of their time on property, clients in villas are likely to drive around to different beaches, bars, shops and restaurants.
Okay, then, which island? All three destinations described here are English-speaking, easy to reach places in the northern half of the Caribbean. All offer villas that are hillside or beachfront, affordable or expensive.
This island has the greatest number of villas, not just because it’s so large, but because villas are a tradition in Jamaica: Ian Fleming, Noel Coward, the Duke of Marlborough and Errol Flynn all considered Jamaica their second home. It figures, then, that some of the best villa staffs in the Caribbean are here, says Pristera. But not all Jamaican villas are expensive. What’s more, says Eastman, “Many who choose Jamaica are drawn by the country’s culture”—reggae, jerk spices, Blue Mountain coffee, and aged rums, not to mention world-class golf, historic mansions, hiking, birding, and rafting. (Boating? Not so much.)
Many of the new as well as the historic villas occupy private plots of land, but villas at places like the Tryall Club, Goldeneye (yes, Ian Fleming’s hideaway), and Moondance Villas are part of resorts. These provide a handy mix of privacy and resort amenities, so they’re ideal for first-time renters or clients who want easy access to a golf course or spa.
For example, Villa 12 at Round Hill, formerly owned by Oscar Hammerstein, features access to the resort’s facilities, a dedicated staff, and a private pool for $2,680 per night, winter season, plus taxes and gratuities.
Fortlands Point at Discovery Bay offers a different variety of luxury: This 7-bedroom, waterfront villa is contemporary, and it’s unaffiliated with a resort. At $2,714-$3,000 a night, plus gratuities, “it offers total privacy and a staff of five,” says Eastman. Clients with more modest budgets have options like the Kima Villa, a 3-bedroom near Ocho Rios that Villas and Apartments Abroad lists for $536 a night.
british virgin islands
The BVI attracts independent travelers of all ages who love beaches, sailing, snorkeling, diving, kayaking, and fishing, etc. “We recommend Virgin Gorda—especially in the Mahoe Bay area—to people seeking a quiet, beautiful place that is less developed than many other islands. Tortola has more ‘action,’ thanks to the shops and bars in Road Town,” says Bennett. But even Tortola is better for families and self-starters than for folks who crave glitz, golf, or history tours.
Longboat Key on Tortola and Leverick Bay on Virgin Gorda, where Wimco lists a 2-bedroom for less than $3,000 a week in winter, offer resort-based villas, as do private islands like Peter Island. Most other BVI villas, though, are unaffiliated homes near secluded beaches.
Bobby Gibson of Travel Keys admires Aquamare and Baraka Point villas for having raised the bar for high-end homes. “Aquamare, an enclave with three 8,000-sq.-ft., 5-bedroom villas, is a superior product with great service, spectacular views, and Maho Bay Beach.” Caribe Villas’ rates per villa at Aquamare range from $2,319-$7,000 per night ($3,357 plus 19 percent tax in winter), and large groups can book all three villas. Most BVI villas, though, like beautifully landscaped Arundel on Tortola, fall into the $6,000-$9,000 mid-range.
This island has two golf courses, but above all, its long, scalloped coast features hundreds of beaches and natural harbors, attracting both beach lovers and people who enjoy boats, large and small. Speaking of boating, UNESCO may soon name Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbour a World Heritage site. “This is the only continually working Georgian shipyard in the world, with 18th century buildings (some housing shops, pubs and restaurants), a maritime museum, and a world-class marina,” says Jones.
People who’ve built villas on Antigua include guys named Armani and Clapton, whose sprawling, 5-bedroom Standfast Point compound features three buildings with hillside vistas, a pool, a billiards room, a children’s playroom, a staff of four, and “rock star” privacy. Villas Caribe lists it for $50,000 a week in high season.
At the other end of the spectrum, Villas of Distinction lists several homes that cost $3,500 a month. Some of Antigua’s most popular rental houses, though, are not the stand-alones but the villas at Jumby Bay, which, says Pristera, “has a beach to die for, watersports, great restaurants, an excellent spa, a kids’ club, and terrific tennis facilities.” These villas range from about $3,400 a night (3-bedroom) to $10,500 a night (the 7-bedroom Bananaquit) in winter. Cheap? Hardly, but your clients deserve no less.
Archived related articles (available on recommend.com):
Antigua and Barbuda Tourist Office: (888) 268-4227; antigua-barbuda.org
British Virgin Islands Tourist Board: (800) 835-8530; bvitourism.com
Jamaica Tourist Board: (800) 233-4582; visitjamaica.com
Travel Keys (Caribe Villas): (877) 815-1242; travelkeys.com/travel-agents
The Villa Experience by Travel Impressions: (888) 284-3786; thevillaexperience.net
Villas and Apartments Abroad: (212) 213-6435; vaanyc.com
Villas of Distinction: (800) 289-0900; villasofdistinction.com
Wimco Villas: (800) 449-1553; wimco.com