Bookings are brisk for luxury villas

Seaside Cottage at Round Hill in Montego Bay, Jamaica, has four bedrooms and a waterfront pool.

If villa-savvy agents have clients contemplating a luxury villa stay during the holiday period next December, they had better move fast to secure that beachfront, multibedroom vacation rental.

"The trend for holiday bookings is much earlier this year," said Steve Lassman, vice president and general manager of Villas of Distinction, a villa provider owned by World Travel Holdings. "We're busier than ever before. Beachfront space is going, and there won't be a lot of inventory available if travelers wait too long; so to avoid the last-minute rush, plan ahead and book now."

This was echoed by Sylvia Delvaille James, CEO of Villas and Apartments Abroad, a New York-based company with a global inventory, including properties in the Caribbean and Mexico.

"I noticed after the last holiday season that clients, especially large families, were rebooking right away for next Christmas season," James said. "High-end villas are indeed getting grabbed up, and these clients are not flinching at the high rental costs."

What's behind this early-booking trend?

"Travel agents are doing their job and proactively reaching out to clients to remind them to get a good jump on their holiday bookings," Lassman said.

L’Oasis in St. Martin boasts seven bedroom suites and two pools.
L’Oasis in St. Martin boasts seven bedroom suites and two pools.

Bookings in general are on the upswing for Villas of Distinction, he said, pointing to a "much more positive vibe across the board on the part of consumers," a product of the improving U.S. economy and the bone-chilling winter many are suffering through.

He cited both Virtuoso agencies and smaller agencies as active partners in building bookings.

The average villa booking is $15,000, which "earns a good commission for our agents," Lassman said.

To sweeten the pot, Villas of Distinction extended its bonus commission program through March 31. The program, introduced in January, was scheduled to end on Feb. 28. Individual agents earn bonuses ranging from $200 with every booking of more than $5,000 up to $750 for bookings topping $40,000.

The Dream, a five-bedroom villa located in St. James on the west coast of Barbados.
The Dream, a five-bedroom villa located in St. James on the west coast of Barbados.

Within the Caribbean, Villas of Distinction offers properties on 17 islands. Top-selling destinations are Jamaica, St. Martin, Barbados, Turks and Caicos, St. Lucia and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands.

"We're seeing a surge in multigenerational travel, getaways and small wedding groups, for whom luxury villas are the perfect solution," he said.

Younger families tend to ask for more contemporary-style villas with high-tech and high-comfort features, according to James.

With Cuba more accessible to U.S. travelers, will the destination figure into the company's future plans?

"I'm interested, but I do not know what is there and if there is a product befitting the U.S. market," Lassman said. "What worries me is what I don't know. We offer luxury products, and I need to be sure that we can supply a chef or butler there when needed. There's a great opportunity in Cuba, but the forbidden factor has to be investigated."

Elsewhere, "the Punta Mita region in Mexico has been very strong with some top-of-the-line beachfront villas. So is Costa Rica. It won't ever have numbers like Jamaica, but it is doing very well," he said.

Villas of Distinction's inventory has fallen to 1,600 properties now, down from 5,000 several years ago.

"We've been pruning our inventory. We have partners on the ground, who personally inspect all of our luxury properties. If one is not up to par, we remove it," Lassman said. 

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