“There are now 74 hotel projects in the Caribbean region, and they will add 18,000 rooms. Twenty-five of those projects are already in construction,” said Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association director Frank Comito at the 2018 Marketplace, held this year in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He noted that 58 percent of people in the Caribbean hospitality business are highly optimistic about 2018, “and we haven’t seen this level of optimism in years.” This is in the wake of two Category 5 hurricanes, no less. But that’s the big picture, so now let’s look at some of the details revealed at CHTA Marketplace’s press conferences:
Marie Walker, director of sales for the Anguilla Tourist Board, and Hon. Cardigan Connor, Parliamentary secretary for tourism, had good reason for their upbeat mood. The airport, ferry services to both sides of St. Martin, electric power, cellular service, roads, beaches, gas stations, restaurants—they all reopened in 2017. (Not Dune Preserve, alas, but that will change.) The Greg Norman course at Cuisinart Golf Resort and Spa and the Tennis Academy are open; most visitors are staying in villas, apartments, and boutique hotels. Frangipani is up and running, and Carimar and Paradise Cove never really closed. Zemi Beach reopens Feb. 15, the Four Seasons on March 23 (and it’s offering a fifth night free), The Reef at Cuisinart on April 1, and Cuisinart Golf Resort and Spa in Novemeber. Malliouhana and Belmond Cap Juluca will return in November after upgrades. “Belmond Cap Juluca had planned to do renovations, anyway,” said Connor, and Cuisinart’s management sees Hurricane Irma’s damage as an opportunity to do what should have been done before. As a hotelier put it, “One of the positives of Irma is that if you had been thinking about rebuilding, this made sure you did rebuild.”
Antigua and Barbuda
Colin James, CEO of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority, reported that his country had more than one million arrivals in 2017. “The expansion of facilities for cruise ships for two years ago has been enormously successful,” he said. JetBlue will expand its RT’s from JFK to four per week June 19-Aug. 31, and thanks in part to Sunwing, Canadian arrivals have increased eight percent. Antigua’s position as “the yachting mecca of the Caribbean,” and the recent declaration of Nelson’s Dockyard as “the world’s newest World Heritage Site” have also contributed. James noted the ease of getting married in Antigua and Barbuda and the coming of the first Caribbean Waldorf-Astoria outside the U.S. (winter season of 2019-20). “Robert DeNiro’s hotel project on Barbuda is still going ahead,” he added, although the government’s more immediate goal is to help Barbudans rebuild their homes and create a more sustainable source of energy. Work has begun on a new airstrip, too. And now, mark your calendars: June 14th is the start of the Antigua and Barbuda Hotel Showcase.
British Virgin Islands
Your correspondent was unable to attend this press conference, and some of the information at bvitourism.com seems not to have been updated since October, but having attended a presentation by director of tourism Sharon Flax-Brutus at The New York Times Travel Show, I can tell you this: Airports are open, there’s a new inter-island ferry service, and a few cruise lines (e.g. two of the Marella ships) have begun to return to Tortola. Although the best-known hotels are mostly out of commission, yachting, which has long been an important part of BVI tourism, is back. This includes sailboats and powerboats—both skippered/crewed and bareboats—managed by Sunsail, The Moorings, Dream Yacht Charter, and Horizon Yacht Charters. (And yes, that means the Soggy Dollar Bar is open.) Anegada is in pretty good shape, and many of the facilities at Oil Nut Bay, including the marina, have reopened. The Anegada Beach Club, a designer boutique hideaway, has also just reopened.
At the end of 2017 the influential Caribbean Journal named this island “Destination of the Year 2017,” but Grenada wasn’t quite done: On Jan. 31 at the CHTA Marketplace, Expedia named the three-island nation its “Caribbean Destination of the Year 2017,” an award that Grenada Tourism Authority CEO Patricia Maher, marketing manager Francine Stewart, and Christine Noel, director of U.S. sales, were happy to accept at a luncheon. They also reminded attendees that Calabash Hotel has joined Relais & Chateaux, the 160-room Kimpton Kawanna will open in 2019, and Silversands, a very high-end and small but cosmopolitan resort unlike anything else on Grenada, will debut later this spring. Luxurious Spice Island Beach Resort & Spa will invest another $4 or $5 million into room renovations, and in a private conversation after the luncheon, founder/chairman Sir Royston Hopkin told me a story that revealed some of his savviness as a hotelier: “You constantly have to replace furnishings so things don’t look worn or tired,” he said, but he’s learned not to replace them with the same colors. Why? “Because if you do, then guests may not even notice that you’ve renovated.” P.S. Arrivals from Canada were up six percent in 2017, and from the U.S., 16 percent.
Tourism arrivals have been rising here, too. And because the French archipelago was not scheduled to hold a press conference at Marketplace, I made a point of talking with Sandra Venite, USA director of the Guadeloupe Islands Tourist Board, at The New York Times Travel Show in late January. We briefly discussed four things: 1. Norwegian Air Shuttle’s nonstop flights from JFK, FLL, and Providence, RI, have been a game-changer, and it’s even expanded the JFK schedule from four to six flights weekly. 2. The awarding of five-diamond status to La Toubana Hotel & Spa was long overdue. 3. The four-star Arawak Beach Resort will open soon on Grande-Terre. 4. Streets and attractions in Pointe-a-Pitre are getting upgraded.
Although this fall’s hurricanes didn’t damage Jamaica, Minister of Tourism Hon. Edmund Bartlett, is preparing his country’s tourism industry now to quickly bounce back from—or even resist—the next act of nature, whenever that may be. In fact, the University of the West Indies is creating a global tourism resilience and crisis management center in Kingston, and he told this reporter, “We want Jamaica to be the Davos of tourism.” Jamaica will also host next year’s CHTA Marketplace.
Domestically, Bartlett is encouraging resorts to use more made-in-Jamaica products, from bedspreads to furniture to ice cream. When asked what’s in it for the tourists, he replied, “It’s a better value proposition for them. We’re not just about sun, sea and sand…This sourcing creates more authenticity, so visitors can better experience the ethos of the culture,” whether that’s in the decor or the cuisine. “We broke all arrival records last year, and we have a 42 percent repeat-visitor rate [because] once you know, you go.” Finally, said Minister Bartlett, “The world today has become an uncertain place, [with] global disruptions, epidemics, weather events, wars.” He pointed out that Jamaica—and the tourism-dependent Caribbean in general—is a standout with regard to “the three S’s: safety, security, and seamlessness.”
Although Martinique was one of the islands that did not formally address the media in San Juan, I did get to chat with Valerie Vulcain, deputy director at the Martinique Promotion Bureau-CMT Americas. Norwegian, which recently added flights from FLL and Providence, RI, to Martinique, has expanded its JFK schedule from three to four weekly roundtrips. We also talked about the recently debuted French Coco, a sophisticated boutique hotel and a member of Small Luxury Hotels.
Times are good: In 2017 stayovers grew 10 percent, and cruise arrivals, 22 percent. Saint Lucia is adding 2,000 hotel rooms to its current inventory (of 5,000). These will include a 250-room Fairmont, a 180-room Ritz-Carlton, a Dreams and a Secrets (totaling 500 rooms), another Sandals will add 400 rooms, and a golf hotel-and-villa resort. Coconut Bay Resort & Spa reopened in October after renovations. Windjammer Landings has invested $8-9 million in renovations that will result in eight new luxury villas. Rich Cortese of Aimbridge Hospitality talked about the brand new Harbour Club, a Curio Resort with “every piece of technology you could find in any hotel in the world,” 115 keys, and five restaurants, one of which he hopes will be the first Michelin-starred restaurant in the Caribbean. Saint Lucia is constructing a new airport, too, and ferry service for multi-island tourism with Grenada and St. Vincent could begin in late 2018.
The reorganized Saint Lucia Tourism Authority has a new marketing campaign, “Saint Lucia: Let Her Inspire You,” to highlight culture and natural beauty, and it’s about to launch a Village Tourism Project that will turn eight villages into destinations. It has expanded its locavore movement, too. “We’re proud of how integrated we’ve become with the agricultural sector,” said Sanovnik Destang, president of SLHTA and executive director of the three Bay Gardens Resorts. “People don’t come here from the U.S. and U.K. to eat the same food they’d get at home.”
Acting minister of tourism, economic affairs, transportation and telecommunications Cornelius de Weever declared, “We are open for business. The Dutch side is serene and safe. An extraordinary number of restaurants, bars, and all 37 of the island’s beaches are open.” Oyster Bay Beach Resort will reopen in April, and the Sonestas in the fourth quarter of 2018 or the first quarter of 2019. Cruise lines are back—most recently, MSC—and the Heinekin Regatta in March is on. “There are even new restaurants,” he said, such as Emilio’s. SXM is serving as a busy hub again, the new Rainforest Adventure at Rockland Estates is open, plus nonstops from North America include American, Delta, and JetBlue. In April WestJet will resume flying to SXM from Toronto and Montreal.
The French side of the world’s smallest bi-national island presented upbeat news at Marketplace, and even before that, during a late-January luncheon for the media in Manhattan, Valerie Damaseau and her team at the St. Martin Tourist Office proclaimed, “We’re still here, [and] the best way to enjoy the island is to come now!” Stephen Wright, general manager of the Grand Case Beach Club, said, “With catastrophe comes opportunity. We have a blank slate for improvement.” Thus, the runway at Grand Case’s airport is being expanded, and Marigot getting a makeover. Grand Case Beach Club, as well as Belmond La Samanna, Esmeralda, Alamanda, and others will open in the fourth quarter; the RIU also plans to reopen. Meanwhile, VillasFWI, Bleu Emeraude and several small hotels are welcoming guests, next month La Plantation will reopen, and Sol e Luna will reopen in April.
U.S. Virgin Islands
Beverly Nicholson-Doty, USVI commissioner of tourism, reported that power is almost 100 percent restored. However, “several of our hotels will be out for much or all of 2018,” and they’re taking advantage of the recovery process to improve their properties. She cited Frenchman’s Reef as Exhibit A. In mid-February, JetBlue will add another flight to St. Thomas from San Juan, Spirit will fly daily from FLL starting March 10, and Delta will resume flying daily May 24. Meanwhile, St. Croix is up and running, from Caravelle to Sand Castle on the Beach to The Buccaneer. Nicholson-Doty added, “Nature takes care of itself…Beaches have recovered beautifully.”
Stay tuned for more news on Puerto Rico, which hosted this event.