Tue | Nov 21, 2017

Jamaican hotels bullish on winter season, downplay business from storm-hit markets

Published:Wednesday | November 1, 2017 | 12:04 AMAvia Collinder
Charmaine Deane, area director of marketing and communications for Jewel Resorts, says some of the new tourism business this winter season is coming from storm-hit markets.
Dimitris Kosvogiannis, general manager of Meliá Braco Hotel, cautions against overexpectation of business flowing to Jamaica from storm-hit markets.
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The damage to property and infrastructure in some sections of the Caribbean has seen a fall in habitable room inventory, with the result that vacationers are looking elsewhere for winter travel options.

However, resort managers in Jamaica have mixed views on the possibility of the fallout impacting occupancy rates in Jamaica in any extraordinary way.

"I realise everyone is suggesting that the Eastern Caribbean's demise will lead to higher numbers and visitors for our island. I don't necessarily agree," said Dimitris Kosvogiannis, general manager of the 225-room Melia Jamaica Braco Village.

"While I do believe some traffic may be diverted our way, we must carefully examine the segments and destinations affected ... For example, guests choosing St Barts as vacation spot, primarily based on its luxury component and unparalleled culinary choices on that island, will most likely not chose Jamaica, the land of all-inclusives, with a few notable exceptions," he said.

Jamaica's tourism market has been growing by around six per cent, according to the latest numbers to August. In the first eight months stopover visitors to 1.625 million compared to 1.532 million in the same period in 2016.

The Ministry of Tourism is itself cautioning against widespread expectation of new business diverted from storm-hit markets.

"It is important to note that several of the islands worst affected by the storm don't have comparable resorts to Jamaica, so there is no shift of business by brand," said Delano Seiveright, senior adviser /strategist to the Minister of Tourism.

"As for the cruise side of the business we are seeing additional calls given the disruption of some Eastern Caribbean itineraries," he said.

Seiveright attributes the market gains so far this year to "aggressive growth initiatives", including the alliance with Airbnb, market outreach to places like Canada Western Europe, and closer collaboration with cruise operators.

The outlook for the winter season, which traditionally kicks off on December 15 annually, is positive, based on advance bookings. Some properties say some of that business would normally have gone to other Caribbean destinations.

"Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa and the four Jewel Resorts have a positive outlook for the upcoming season and believe that Jamaica is absolutely seeing some supplemental short term demand this fall and into the first quarter of 2018," said Charmaine Deane, area director of marketing and communications for the Jewels resort group.

Deane said the new business "is from both the group and leisure market segment along with some business that needed to be relocated from other Caribbean islands" and that the increase ranged between 5 per cent and 50 per cent, depending on the property.

"This has been evident from higher call volumes, as well as mostly higher occupancies year over year within the Jewel Resorts and Hilton Rose Hall portfolio here on island," she said.

Hurricanes Irma and Maria cut a destructive path through various Caribbean territories in September. The impacted islands included Barbuda, Anguilla, St Martin, St Barts, British Virgin Islands, US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.

St Barts' hotels are expected to be out of commission until the end of 2018.

Kosvogiannis says Melia Braco is itself projecting good business for the peak season, but insists that any impact on bookings from storm-hit markets would be minimal.

"We have confirmed buyouts for January, March and April and anticipate a very full month for February," said the hotel manager. "Our property has received international recognition and we are confident we will continue to grow and expand into new markets as we establish the brand in the North American market."

But he did not expect, he said, that those who had booked vacations for the islands in the north east will switch en suite to islands such as Jamaica.

"If I am to travel to Cuba, for example, as I wish to visit the history, tradition and Latin flair offered there, I would be very hard-pressed to choose the birth place of reggae as an alternative. This would be tantamount to planning for a steak dinner and going to a seafood restaurant," he reasoned.

Sandals Resorts International, which operates 15 Sandals and three Beaches resorts in Jamaica and around the Caribbean, indicates that the hurricanes have had minimal impact on its properties.

"Sandals resorts across the Caribbean continue to experience robust occupancy," said Director of Corporate Services Jeremy Jones.

"In the Eastern Caribbean, we had one resort closed on the heels of Hurricane Irma for previously planned renovations and those guests were relocated to our other resorts in that region," he said.

avia.collinder@gleanerjm.com