An Update on Caribbean Travel Trends

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Seagrape Beach Suite
Seagrape Beach Suite at Spice Island Beach Resort in Grenada is part of the greening of the Caribbean movement and features a landscape made up of native plants. (photo credit: ©2008 DeHoog)

What do dewy-eyed millennials and graybeard seniors have in common? They’re both major players in Caribbean travel trends. On Friday at The New York Times Travel Show, Fernando Abreu, deputy director of the Caribbean Tourism Organization-USA, mentioned that and more during his overview of trends. Directly or indirectly, all the trends he mentioned affect travel agents. Moreover, there is one huge paradox to these trends, but before getting into that, let’s look at what they are:

Upgrades to the Infrastructure
With the Recession receding, Caribbean islands are attracting new nonstop flights from North America, upgrading roads and airports, and opening new hotels (see “Tipsheet for Agents” on new all-inclusives in the upcoming March issue of Recommend).

Millennials Get Experiential
These 18- to 35-year-old travelers are more interested in urban destinations, activities, traveling with friends, and experiential travel. “They don’t want to just stay on the beach,” says Abreu, and contrary to stereotypes, they do know how to spend money. He singled out The BodyHoliday, LeSPORT on Saint Lucia for its ability to understand millenials.

Seniors Seize the Day
Regarding older travelers, Abreu used the phrase, “Nothing can stop us now.” He also credited seniors for organizing multigenerational vacations, and praised Beaches, Turks & Caicos; and Atlantis, Paradise Island, The Bahamas for serving family groups so well.

Luxury Travel Gains Importance
This segment is “rapidly expanding,” observed Abreu; that’s why airlines are expanding their first-class seating capacity to the Caribbean. For these travelers, he said, Caribbean vacations “are not about cost, but the experience. Their focus is on value, not price.” That, he said, will be the appeal of the soon-to-reopen Condado Vanderbilt Hotel in San Juan. And talk about value over price, “the true luxury traveler,” he declared, “will pay extra to save time.”

Green Rules
Abreu cited the many resorts that have jumped through hoops lately to win Green Globe certification, noting that being green includes not just energy/water efficiency but things like preserving local cultures and keeping the coast clean, as well as featuring onsite landscaping with native plants as Spice Island Beach Resort in Grenada does. A good example of the new green awareness: the move to preserve junkanoo in The Bahamas. The Greening of the Caribbean from the November 2013 issue of Recommend explored the connection between all this and travel agents.

Authenticity in Travel
Instead of just staying put at the hotel beach, many travelers to the Caribbean “envision themselves traveling to a foreign country and living, eating, and doing things the locals do,” as they would in England or Italy, said Abreu. Hence, the importance of off-campus activities and events on the website.

Niche Specialties Grow
More North Americans are going to the Caribbean to pursue specific interests: wellness, golf, watersports, weddings and/or honeymoons, ecotourism, adventure, cultural tourism, festivals, shopping, whale watching, etc.

Caribbean Cruising Maintains Its Dominance
Despite the recent expansion of itineraries to just about any part of the planet short of Nepal, the Caribbean still hosts an outsized 54 percent of cruise ship passengers.

About that Apparent Paradox
After the presentation, we asked Abreu how to reconcile trends like authenticity, which emphasizes going out to see and experience local island life, with the rapid growth in all-inclusives. “Even at all-inclusives, more people are leaving hotel grounds to experience the islands,” he replied. “They want to be in touch with the local culture.”

How Did We Do?
To compare the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s identification of major trends with those identified by Recommend magazine, see Caribbean Trends from the December 2013 issue.