A Reality Check with the Experts
Before this fall’s hurricanes, St. Martin, Puerto Rico, Anguilla and other islands that took direct hits were hot destinations, and they will be again. Meanwhile, what’s undeniably hot right now? A panel of three experts—Travel Impressions president Scott Wiseman, GOGO Vacations product marketing director Tara Lano, and Delta Vacations product development director Eric Fandek—have answers.
Travel Impressions, President Scott Wiseman
When asked which Caribbean destinations are popular these days, Wiseman spotlights four islands:
• “Aruba is and always will be hot,” he declares. “As one of the ABC islands, which are located outside of the hurricane belt, it has increasingly grown in prominence.
• “As a honeymooner favorite, Saint Lucia will always be hot. Those Pitons are iconic, and with its diversification of experiences, Saint Lucia is perfect for romance and Millennial soft adventure.
• “Nassau-Paradise Island is poised for a strong comeback, especially with the opening of Baha Mar,” says Wiseman. “With renovations at Atlantis as well as all-inclusive choices such as the rebranded, adults-only RIU Palace Paradise Island and adults-only Warwick Paradise Island, new visitors and repeat customers will be sure to find something to come back for.
• Wiseman views Jamaica as perennially hot, as well. “New builds like Zoëtry Montego Bay and Melia Braco Village keep it innovative as well as next-level luxurious.”
Travel agent Mitch Toren, aka chief vacation engineer at TheTripGuy, picks up on the new resorts theme. “It’s amazing how many new properties have opened in the last 24 to 30 months, giving returning customers a new location to visit,” he says. “In Jamaica, you have Royalton Resorts, Moon Palace Jamaica, Azul Sensatori, [all Travel Impressions offerings] and even more in development.”
Both Toren and Chancellor of Travel Tom Varghese, aka Travel Tom, share Wiseman’s enthusiasm for Saint Lucia, which, “like Jamaica, Punta Cana, and Barbados, has seen increased traffic and bookings” in the wake of this fall’s hurricanes. “These islands offer a range of resorts, from luxury all-inclusives to boutique EP resorts. They’re also perfect for clients who like to venture off the resort and off the beaten path.”
Of course, you could also define “hot” destinations as places that have just opened or that people are only discovering now, but they’re rapidly gaining popularity. Are any of these in Travel Impressions’ portfolio?
“This is a great question, since smaller, lesser-known Caribbean islands offer a strong contrast to the larger, more popular destinations,” says Wiseman. “In fact,
this is the inspiration behind our Island
Vibes program. Boutique-meets-chic destinations such as Curacao and Bonaire serve vacationers interested in authentic
“Bonaire’s got great beaches and adventure tourism such as kayaking with pink flamingos, diving (including shore diving for less experienced divers), and cycling. In Curacao, Willemstad, with its pastel-colored houses, offers a perfect backdrop for clients whose interests go beyond sun and sand.
“Grenada is another lush island with smaller boutique hotels such as the renowned Spice Island Beach Resort,” he adds. “Plus, Turks & Caicos is starting to enter the all-inclusive market, with three hotels in our portfolio now offering this option.”
Eric Fandek, Senior Director, Product Development at Delta Vacations
“Many of the additions to Delta Vacations’ portfolio in 2016 and 2017 have been family-friendly properties. For example, in Punta Cana and Montego Bay, nearly 70 percent of the hotels Delta Vacations has added include resorts like Nickelodeon, Royalton Blue Waters, NOW Onyx Punta Cana, Sunscape Bavaro and Sunscape Dominican Beach, Dreams Dominicus, Royalton Negril, Luxury Bahia Fantasia, Azul Beach Sensatori and NOW Garden,” says Fandek.
Travel agents get what he’s saying about family-friendly properties. Toren singles out Nickelodeon, NOW Onyx Punta Cana, and Majestic Mirage (also in Delta Vacations’ portfolio). Varghese mentions a Delta Vacations offering on a different island, the new Royalton Saint Lucia. “With its grand opening in the northern part of the island earlier this year, Saint Lucia now has a truly luxurious all-inclusive that’s perfect for families,” he says, “not to mention honeymooners in their adults-only
Resorts have been willing to try new things to please the family market, too. “Properties in the Caribbean have evolved when it comes to accommodations and amenities to suit families’ needs,” explains Fandek. “With different room layouts and a growing number of amenities to suit multi-generational family vacations, we see infrastructure being developed to create memorable experiences.”
Fandek adds, “Though the average length of a vacation in the Caribbean has remained consistent year over year, we have seen a slight increase in our average number of passengers per booking year over year. This is likely a result of the types of hotels that are being built in Caribbean destinations.”
Also on the subject of what’s hot, Fandek points to markets as well as destinations. “We have always seen strong demand from travelers in the Midwest heading to the Caribbean for vacations, but we’re now seeing more demand from the Northeast (New York) and the Southeast (Atlanta). Punta Cana, Jamaica, and Nassau-Paradise Island are getting the strongest growth from these origin regions.”
GOGO Vacations Product Marketing Director Tara Lano
The Dominican Republic’s tourism sector has enjoyed extraordinary growth over the past decade or two, and GOGO Vacations’ product marketing director sees no let-up in this trend. “There are so many new and beautiful hotels that have opened in the past year, and their services and amenities are spectacular,” says Lano. Moreover, “these new properties speak to almost every demographic: families (Dreams Dominicus, Nickelodeon, Sunscape Bavaro), couples (Secrets Cap Cana, Majestic Mirage, Excellence El Carmen), and people on a budget (RIU Republic).” She adds, “Two new hotels in Punta Cana, Majestic Mirage and Excellence El Carmen, are in our top-10 sold properties for July and August.”
Lano singles out Hard Rock Punta Cana for another reason: its “plethora of options for however people want to travel. You can relax poolside, go to the casino, see incredible shows and hot entertainment, etc.” Certainly, include golf in that et cetera.
Toren concurs on Punta Cana, noting in particular that “Secrets Cap Cana and Excellence El Carmen are very strong.” Varghese is excited about the opening of another GOGO Vacations offering in Punta Cana, the Breathless resort. (He’s glad to see a new one in Montego Bay, as well.) “Traditionally, adults-only resorts attract mostly couples, leaving a gap for adults who want a resort that’s not couples-oriented yet provides that balance between a high-end, adult, luxury experience and fun,” he explains. “Breathless Resorts, where Vegas meets the Caribbean, do this well. The resorts are chic, and the vibe is edgy and fun, but without sacrificing on service, design, or quality of food and beverage.”
Travel to Jamaica keeps keeping on, too, says Lano, “because of the same reason as travel to the DR: There are so many shiny new properties that are doing very well.” Sure enough, in just a few days during the last week of September, three major resorts celebrated grand openings.
Lano also points to islands whose travel industries are now experiencing an increase in popularity with the American market. “Antigua continues to grow as a destination, and we see this trend continuing as Americans become more familiar with the island. We’re seeing increased inquiries for Cuba, too, as we sell a cruise with Peregrine [part of the Intrepid Group]. We also anticipate growth in The Bahamas when the RIU re-opens after renovations and as Baha Mar picks up more traction.”