By Mimi Kmet [TravelAge]
Good things can come in small packages in the Caribbean. And
some travel agents have found that hotels of fewer than 100 rooms,
many of which are independently owned and operated, can be more
appealing to clients than large high rises and sprawling resorts.
"Sometimes the small hotels are locally owned, so you have more of
a cultural connection,"said Marilyn Harris, senior travel advisor
for Wellesley Hills Travel in Wellesley, Mass.
While she honors specific requests for large hotels, when she
gets what she calls a "send me" call -- a general request for the
Caribbean -- she sends them to places like the British Virgin
Islands, Grenada, Tobago and Anguilla, which tend to have a large
proportion of small hotels, she said. Small hotels aren't for
everybody, she admitted: "People who want more adventure book small
hotels. Families tend to want more predictable lodging, because
they have to think of their children, and the large hotels are more
likely to have children's programs."
According to Suzanne Sullivan, a travel agent at Hello World
Travel in Sparks, Nev., qualifying your clients becomes paramount
when considering a small hotel. For example, said Sullivan, who is
president of the Caribbean Tourism Organization's Sierra Nevada
chapter, she wouldn't book a small hotel for her more upscale
clients who have stayed at four-and five-star properties and are
used to luxurious amenities and surroundings. However, she does
book families, she added, noting that location and affordability
make up for the lack of children's programs.
"More Americans are learning the values that the Europeans have
had for years -- they want to spend more time and less money. They
want good value and are not looking for down pillows," she said.
She also books small hotels for "businessmen paying out of their
own pockets who want pay to $80 to $90 a night. They are from small
companies that don't necessarily want restaurants and bars," she
While many small properties cost less, however, "a small hotel
doesn't mean a cheap hotel," said Jacques Abitan, president of
Festa Holidays, a Miami-based wholesaler that offers small hotel
packages. "Some are $30 [a night], some are $400." Small hotels
also are easier to work with, and their staffs are more personable
and "take a little more time," Sullivan added. Harris agreed: "You
can call or fax a small hotel and ask them to take care of your
clients." In large hotels, she said, the request can get lost. She
once faxed a large hotel to request a bottle of champagne for a
honeymoon couple, and it didn't happen.
The hardest part of booking small hotels, agents said, is
actually making the booking. "They're not typically offered with
packages; so you most likely would need to do your own research,"
Harris said. In addition, they "don't have the marketing dollars of
larger hotels, and it's hard to find reservations services for
them," Sullivan said.
But that is changing, with programs like Festa Holidays' The
Real Caribbean: Distinctive Caribbean Small Hotels. Sponsored by
the Caribbean Hotel Association, American Express and American
Airlines, the program is meant to "give small Caribbean hotels
access to American Airlines' bulk fares to the Caribbean," Abitan
said. In addition, the CHA Reservations and Marketing Service
publishes a "Gold Book" of properties and provides a global
reservations system via Robert Reid Associates/ Utell
International, which puts all hotels on a level playing field, said
William Canavan, Robert Reid/Utell's director of resort
Smaller hotel organizations focusing on individual destinations
also serve as resources. For example, Bahamas-based Small Treasures
is a group of 12 properties in Nassau and Paradise Island that have
banded together in a joint marketing effort.