This past year you’ve been inundated with news about:

• wellness (the Caribbean Tourism Organization has even appointed Wellness Ambassadors for travelers seeking Yoda-like serenity and superhero triceps), 

• gastronomy (star chefs have been attracting more visitors than stars in the sky), 

• transportation (new airlift, even new
ferry services), 

• sustainability (Sandals Resorts, Royalton Resorts, and even independents such as
Bay Gardens Resorts recently banned
plastic straws), 

• festivals (music, sports, food, rum, Carnival…), and 

• cultural experiences (visiting heritage sites, eating local cuisine, enjoying local music, performing voluntourism, etc.). 

You know all this already, so let’s take a different approach with this year’s Caribbean trends piece: Because much of your business revolves around booking hotels, let’s focus on five trends in accommodations. 

Hotel Brands, Brands, and More Brands
This trend isn’t included here because it’s new—it isn’t new—but because every time you might think that the market can’t possibly process any more brands, it does. This year Excellence Oyster Bay, the first Excellence resort in the Anglophile Caribbean, opened to positive reviews on a peninsula in Falmouth, Jamaica. The Caribbean’s first Hyatt Centric property (237 rooms) is being built at the edge of Bridgetown, Barbados. This brand will be especially appealing to urbane millennials. Hyatt Hotels recently announced it is also creating Andaz Turks & Caicos at Grace Bay, the first Andaz in the region. Scheduled to open in 2021, this brand will provide “thoughtful, unscripted service for curious-minded guests in search of inspiring local experiences.” Playa Resorts will bring its laid-back Panama Jack brand, currently in Mexico, to the islands in 2020 with a property in Montego Bay. 

A development in Antigua and Barbuda will re-establish the Waldorf Astoria brand in the wake of El Conquistador’s woes. For many Americans, another five-star project in the works, Dominica’s Cabrits Resort & Spa Kempinski, will be the region’s only accessible Kempinski because the other one is in Cuba. Meanwhile, Mandarin Oriental just planted its flag in the Caribbean—in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.  

Accommodations at Luxury Bahia Principe Ambar.
Accommodations at Luxury Bahia Principe Ambar.

Now, it’s easy to understand that Palladium’s new TRS brand is an upgrade of the Turquesa brand, but other changes are harder to grasp. For example, what’s
the difference between Melia Caribe Tropical spin-offs Melia Punta Cana Beach Resort and Melia Caribe Beach Resort? The former is adults-only; the latter welcomes families. Another one: The conversion in November of the Luxury Bahia Principe Ambar Green into the Grand Bahia Principe Aquamarine was not just a change on the color chart. This is Grand Bahia’s first adults-only Grand resort, and the use of “Grand” instead of “Luxury” indicates a slightly lower price point. November also saw the relaunch of Luxury Bahia Principe Ambar Blue as Luxury Bahia Principe Ambar. The new name represents a more luxurious brand than the Grand Aquamarine or even its own “Blue” predecessor. 

Two months ago Memories Splash divided into two resorts: Grand Memories Splash, with its larger studios and Diamond Club option, will continue to attract families. Grand Memories Punta Cana has smaller, less expensive rooms for romantic getaways or even solo travelers as well as families. Got that? Good, because there’s more to come—and that’s an opportunity for travel advisors to guide overwhelmed consumers.   

Grand Memories Punta Cana will be able to dine at Social Bar & Arcade.
Guests of both Grand Memories Splash and Grand Memories Punta Cana will be able to dine at Social Bar & Arcade.

The Spread of All-Inclusives to New Islands
Long avoided by developers and managers of all-inclusive resorts, Puerto Rico has joined the large fraternity of islands that have such resorts, thanks to the new Candelero Beach Resort. This smallish AI (just 107 rooms) happens to have five dining options, with more to come, and a fine beach. As the former Wyndham Garden Palmas del Mar, it also has a marina, the largest tennis facility on the entire island, and two golf courses laid out by A-list designers: Rees Jones and Gary Player. This resort is an option not just for families, couples, and duffers, but also wedding parties and other groups that want an all-inclusive without obliging everyone get a passport.

Candelero will not be the only all-inclusive on Puerto Rico. AMResorts will soon add a Dreams resort. Thus, more choices on an island whose hotel industry, despite the tragedies of Hurricane Maria, has come back remarkably quickly and completely. 

Another island that can now claim a true all-inclusive resort is Tobago, thanks to the new Starfish Tobago. Occupying the site of the former Turtle Beach by Rex Resorts, this 125-room AI gives guests access to Tobago’s natural wonders (snorkeling, hiking, birding) at surprisingly affordable rates. Sunwing has initiated nonstop flights to Tobago, and U.S. flights are surely in this island’s future, because guess who else is coming to town: Sandals Resorts International (SRI). 

SRI is planning a large development featuring both Beaches and Sandals resorts, and although there is environmental opposition, the government seems determined to see it through. “The Sandals Golden Grove Tobago Project represents a major turning point for the economy of Tobago,” says Finance Minister Colm Imbert. He has argued that “The economic impact of Sandals will be substantial,” noting it would create 2,000 jobs and “estimated income to the government of US$80 million per year in taxes and other payments.” The smart money is confident, therefore, that Tobago will get its second and third all-inclusive resorts. 

Villas at Traditional Resorts
The debut of villas and residences at full-service resorts just doesn’t stop, as more families and friends demand to have their cake (a resort) and eat it, too (in their own villas). Citizenship-by-investment programs is also fueling new rentable vacation homes
at resorts.

Thus, Bianca Sands, Hacienda Samana Bay, The Liming Bequia, and Oil Nut Bay are just some of the properties that debuted residential units in 2018, and there are more to come, such as Rock House in the Turks and Caicos, WaterMark and the massive Mandarin Oriental on Grand Cayman, and the above-mentioned Cabrits Resort & Spa Kempinski project in Dominica. Travel advisors who have primarily booked hotels in the past will, with a little help from packagers such as Travel Impressions (which works with Villas of Distinction), find it profitable to arrange more home-within-a-resort stays
in the future.

Glamping
A high-end African safari is not the only choice for people who want both creature comforts and a sense that they are “camping.” In 2018 Wild Lotus Antigua opened its doors (well, tent flaps), and Anegada Beach Club has reopened as well. The typical client will not be interested in this sort of experience, but millennials and adventure travelers—of any age—view glamping as an opportunity to be more in touch with their natural surroundings.