Destinations sharpen marketing strategies for winter season

*logoWhat’s on the wish list of travelers headed to the Caribbean this winter, and which travel trends are influencing their decisions regarding if, when and where to go?

Despite a year of economic challenges, destinations are pumping marketing dollars into promotions designed to tempt returning travelers to revisit and first-timers to take the plunge.

"The No. 1 priority for guests at our four resorts in Jamaica is a memorable experience filled with personal attention, intimate atmosphere and lots of inclusions," said Randy Russell, romance director and senior vice president for Couples Resorts.

Wedding and honeymoon guests book furthest in advance, and price is not their top consideration, according to Russell.

"Our focus is romance. We attribute our continued successes to our 40% repeat-guest factor," he said.

Viceroy Anguilla reports a rebound and robust growth in luxury travel, strong forward bookings and "a substantial increase in high-end incentives and group sales," according to Virgil Napier, director of sales and marketing.

New for 2011 at Viceroy is airfare compensation up to $6,000 for every five-night stay in a four-bedroom villa booked from Jan. 3 through April 30.

Rates in the 24 four-bedroom units start at $4,500 per night.

New air options from FlyMontserrat and Winair await visitors to Montserrat this winter as well as an expanded schedule of ferry services and discounted guesthouse and villa rental rates.

Ernestine Cassell, tourism director, sells Montserrat as an affordable winter vacation option combining Old World charm with events such as the Carnival Festival.

Pent-up demand for high-quality, high-value travel is driving travel this winter, according to Kevin Froemming, president of Unique Vacations, worldwide representative for Sandals and Beaches Resorts.

"It’s about value," Froemming said. "People are willing to spend money but are looking for hotels to exceed their expectations."

Consumers are critical, careful, skeptical shoppers, but consumer confidence is strengthening, according to Froemming.

"While we are still not up to levels of pre-crisis numbers, we steadily improve, due in large part to our travel agent partners who have played a significant role in our ability to retain and develop market share," Froemming said.

To attract guests in 2011, Sandals is relying on agents, keeping incentives in the market and reinforcing its Luxury Included brand through a new consumer campaign.

Martinique is touting enhancements at Balata Gardens, the debut of the plantation house at the Depaz Distillery, four new restaurants and the addition of a second daily American Eagle flight from San Juan.

"The early part of the winter season looks fairly strong," said Karine Roy-Camille, commissioner of the Martinique Tourism Authority. "Our annual Jazz Festival is December is drawing well, and advance bookings for Carnival in mid-February are ahead of last year’s pace."

Additions to Jamaica’s tourism product in 2011 will provide additional incentives for visitors, according to John Lynch, director of tourism.

"The winter season includes the reopened Goldeneye Resort, the debut of Montego Bay Convention Center and the launch of Historic Falmouth Cruise Port, all of which help solidify Jamaica’s ability to attract a growing number of visitors," Lynch said.

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