As the largest independent property on Antigua, the 464-room, all-inclusive Jolly Beach Resort & Spa would seem an accurate barometer of the current state of business on the island, given the economic downturn in the U.S.
"We've seen no huge falloff in bookings; we continue to upgrade facilities and offerings, and we foresee major growth from the U.S. over the long term," said P. Hilary Modeste, director of marketing.
In fact, the resort has projected a 15% growth in business for 2008, Modeste said.
The U.S. and Canada account for 25% of the market, the U.K. represents 40% and the balance hails from other European countries as well as the regional Caribbean market.
More than 60% of the resort's business is "tour operator-driven," he said.
"There is a perceived slowdown in the economy, but people still are traveling and will continue to do so," Modeste said.
The global press coverage following the murder in late July of a British couple on honeymoon in Antigua has had minimal impact on Jolly Beach, according to Modeste.
"Although the coverage in the British press was enormous, we received no cancellations and very few phone calls from guests and agents who wanted reassurances that Antigua was safe," he said.
"I told them that indeed Antigua remained safe for visitors, and it's a place I still want to raise children."
The family market is one of the top three markets for Jolly Beach, along with couples and conferences.
The resort continues to invest a lot of money and energy in the family market, Modeste said.
"For starters, we offer good value for the money, with five restaurants, two pools, the Palms Wellness Centre Spa, a great location on a mile-long beach and lots for kids to do," he said.
Fun for kids
Jolly Beach recently added the Jolly Teenz Club for visitors ages 13 to 16 and renovated the existing Jolly Kidz Club.
The program for teens includes entertainment day and night. The club space is decked out with flat-screen TVs, Wii and Xbox game consoles and arcade-style games. At night, pizza, movies and music "put a good spin on a family vacation when teens don't want to hang out with their parents," Modeste said.
The under-16 age group now has Soiree Night, which takes place in one of the resort's a la carte restaurants.
"Kids are urged to dress up, and parents are not allowed," said Luis Marte, U.S. regional marketing director. "It's supposed to teach [children] good manners and etiquette, along with having fun. They're served a sparkling, nonalcoholic beverage in a wine glass, and they make toasts and have a good time."
While the resort has no plans to build more rooms, it did add three beach cottages last year.
The two-bedroom, two-bath cottage is a hit with families, according to Modeste, while the two one-bedroom cottages are popular with honeymooners.
Future growth in the family market will come from the U.S., Modeste predicted.
"From January through June, we saw positive growth. It slowed down this summer due to the economic situation, but by the end of December we will finish well, especially with the new American nonstop flights from Miami, Delta's twice-weekly service out of Atlanta and Continental's eight weekly flights from Newark," Modeste said.
While the fall season is not as strong as Jolly Beach would like, "we're bolstering it with consumer promotions and incentives," he said.
Agents haven't been forgotten, either. A 50% discount runs through Dec. 20 for an agent plus companion, and it comes with a $20 coupon toward a massage.
In addition to earning a 15% commission on all bookings, agents also earn one free night for every five bookings of five or more nights.
Free nights can be redeemed in the off-season, and there are no limits on the number of nights that can be earned.
"Seeing is believing, and we want agents to come with their families for a firsthand experience," Modeste said.
Weddings, both from the U.S. and the U.K., represent a steady, year-round market for Jolly Beach. The resort hosted 348 nuptials last year and could top that number this year, Marte said.
Antigua's easing of legal requirements definitely has helped. "Couples can get married the day after they arrive on Antigua instead of the three days they had to wait in the past," he said.
To entice the cruise crowd, which Modeste said is another lucrative source of business, Jolly Beach offers day passes for $75 per person that include unlimited food and drinks and access to all the resort's facilities.
The resort has five restaurants, three of which are a la carte, including an Indian restaurant popular with British guests, a Caribbean eatery that features a Sunday brunch and a casual grill on the beach that's a favorite with Americans.
"We've also got machines where guests can make their pina coladas and rum punches, adding whatever ingredients they want," Modeste said.
As for rates, Jolly Beach is "very near" the same levels as last year.
"We're a three-star property, and we watch our competition carefully," he said, adding that several of Antigua's higher-priced resorts had reduced their rates, "which makes for a wider range of competitors."
Jolly Beach has no "big gap" between high-season and low-season pricing, according to Modeste.
"There's a short booking window now, except for the predictable holiday periods," he said. "All resorts report that."
Through Dec. 20, the rates are from $141 to $228. Winter rates from Dec. 21 through April 15 range from $156 to $268 per person, per night. Kids 11 and under are $56 per person, per night, double.
Rates at Jolly Beach include a 10% service charge and 15% government tax. "Our guests have no surprises and add-ons when they check out," Marte said.
WiFi access is offered for a small fee at the resort and is free for groups booking a conference room. All of the resort's conference facilities provide wireless service, as do two of the superior category room blocks, the reception area, the courtyard and the quiet pool. Internet access is also offered at the resort's cyber center.
Still to come at Jolly Beach is WiFi capability in all guestrooms. "We know that everyone has a need to stay connected," Modeste said. "We are a spread-out property, so resortwide WiFi has been a bit of a challenge, but it's coming."
For more information, visit www.jollybeachresort.com.