PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas — Spirits were high at last week's 31st Caribbean Travel Marketplace, held for the second year in a row at the Atlantis resort here.
"I feel the rebound," said Richard Doumeng, president of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), the conference sponsor. "It's happening, and our hoteliers are benefiting from that."
Doumeng also is manager of Bolongo Bay, his family-run hotel on St. Thomas.
While many properties did well in 2012 through last September, they got slammed in the fall by the elections, which kept some travelers at home, and by Hurricane Sandy, which paralyzed key markets on the east coast.
Business has picked up again, especially for the luxury properties and operators.
John Hanratty and Paul Zar, both of Travel Impressions, cited booking spikes beginning in early January in their Villa Experience program, which now numbers more than 1,200 properties, with 300 of them in the Caribbean region.
Similar comments regarding the uptick in business and occupancies came from Alberto Abreu, director of hospitality at the Punta Cana Resort & Club in the Dominican Republic and from Stephen Kappeler with the all-villa Sky Beach Club in Eleuthera, Bahamas.
While buyers met with suppliers on the trade show floor in record numbers — more than 12,000 scheduled business appointments over a two-day period — CHTA officials and tourism ministers discussed the recurring issues regarding airlift, air access and the easing of visa regulations for Caribbean nationals.
A visible sign of the coming together of the public and private sectors in Caribbean tourism was the announcement that the Caribbean Tourism Development Co. (CTDC) will relaunch its regional marketing website on Feb. 28.
The CTDC was created in 2007 as a marketing and business development unit, owned equally by the CHTA and Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) to promote and enhance the Caribbean brand.
"The new site will be a one-stop, comprehensive tool that will revolutionize the research and planning process for consumers looking for a vacation in the Caribbean, the leading warm-weather destination," said Beverly Nicholson-Doty, CTO chairwoman, commissioner of tourism for the U.S. Virgin Islands and CTDC co-chair.
Visitors to www.caribbeantravel.com will find the old site, which still is active but has not been updated or refreshed for some time, according to Doumeng, also a co-chair of CTDC.
"This now is a reality," he said. "We've had challenges marketing the Caribbean brand, we have talked about it for years, analyzed it and even tried it a couple of times. Both ventures had big interest spikes initially but both fell apart because they were not sustainable."
It is really happening this time, Doumeng said.
"The new site is a 21st century, 24/7 online hotel and information portal and platform that represents the efforts of the governments and the private sectors," Doumeng said.
The relaunched site will showcase the 600 CHTA member properties and the region's countries and will link to a database of CTO agents who will handle bookings, reservations and promotions for the member hotels.
In a ceremony during the conference, delegates paid their respects to Alec Sanguinetti, who is retiring as director general of the CHTA.
He has served in that post for the last 10 years and was director for a decade prior to that.
His career spans 50 years in Caribbean tourism, and his absence "leaves us with very large shoes to fill," Doumeng said.
A search committee will be formed within the next 90 days for Sanguinetti's replacement.
Caribbean Travel Marketplace 2014 will take place at the Montego Bay Convention Center in Jamaica, marking the third time that the destination has hosted the event.
Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly.