Islands offer warm respite from war worries By Gay Nagle Myers / April 25, 2003 Share 1 -- ocation, they say, is everything. And location could be the key factor for the Caribbean in this strange selling season. The region features packages and products loaded with discounted prices and perks for war-jittery, travel-wary clients when agents can convince them to forsake the backyard barbecue for the beachfront breakfast.With the demand for international travel down, "people will choose places in the U.S. and the Caribbean because those places are seen as safety zones," said Aimee Ricca, owner of Bonne Amie Travel and Dreamtime Journeys USA in Rockport, Maine.That's just what Richard Doumeng, general manager of Bolongo Bay Beach Club in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, is counting on."It's a big factor in the decision-making process for some travelers to be able to take off under the U.S. flag and land on U.S. soil," he said. "The U.S. Virgin Islands combines the ease of domestic travel with the international experience."Jean Holder, secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), reminded members that "peace of mind, security, the perception of safety and the investment our customers" must be guaranteed."Safe haven" is how Eileen Kennedy, executive vice president of Gogo Worldwide Vacations, described the Caribbean. "We're confident that travelers will continue to perceive the region as safe, secure and friendly," she said.Hugh Riley, the CTO's marketing director for the Americas, described the task at hand as one of "promoting hospitality in a time of hostility."Gordon "Butch" Stewart, chairman of Sandals and Beaches Resorts, agreed. "We must reassure travelers that our Caribbean resorts are close to home, welcome U.S. citizens and are flexible in terms of cancellations and rescheduling," he said.Agents, such as Kim Wilson of Hollowbrook Travel in Fishkill, N.Y., are trying to do just that."Clients are booking very close in to their travel dates. When people decide to travel, they want to go right then," Wilson said. "We can offer them a variety of well-priced packages that often help seal the deal on the spot."Given those guidelines, hotels and destinations are scrambling to position the Caribbean as a destination that's near, safe and loaded with value-driven products that agents can sell -- a marketing focus that has been in place since 9/11.Operators, hotels and airlines have revised their cancellation and rebooking policies to eliminate penalties and help stem the potential loss of business and a drop in call volume for new bookings.A complete list of policies and procedures can be viewed at the CTO's Web site, located at www.caribbean.org, as well as at www.travelweekly.com.Maintaining "open lines of communication with travel agents" is a key strategy "more important now than ever before," Riley said."The Caribbean region is dependent upon agents to continue to book and sell business."For more on this topic, see related stories: • Hotels get creative to entice clients • Facts and tidbits on Caribbean life.