The Caribbean's upscale villa-rental industry took an
outsized hit from the one-two punch of hurricanes Irma and Maria last
Many of the islands that were heavily damaged were places
with strong villa-rental cultures, such as St. Barts and Anguilla. As those
islands recover, the villa industry faces the additional challenges of public
perception about their condition following the storms and the subsequent
decline in airlift. Both are being driven, at least in part, by the closing of
so many large hotels.
Because each villa is distinctly located and uniquely built,
the disparity in damage spans a wide spectrum. On several islands, the state of
the hotel industry does not mirror that of the villa housing stock. The rental
homes that are repaired or were never damaged in the first place are working to
get the word out that they are open for business.
"We have to fight the perception that the hurricanes
created a swath of destruction across the Caribbean," said Steven Lassman,
vice president of Villas of Distinction. "We're trying very hard to push
the word out that these islands are ready and able, and your vacation will be
The problem is acute on St. Barts, where the largest hotels
are not slated to open until later this year: Le Guanahani, the island's
biggest resort with 67 rooms, and Eden Rock, St. Barths say they will open this
summer (Eden Roc's 80-property Villa Rental is open for business). The Hotel
Christopher St. Barth will reopen in February, Villa Marie Saint-Barth in
March, Le Manapany in April and Hotel Le Toiny in October.
Le Sereno and Isle de France have not set reopening dates.
However, villa rental companies like Villas of Distinction,
St. Barth Properties and Wimco all report that 50% of their villa inventory is
available, with more properties slated to reopen this month.
On Anguilla, the Four Seasons Resort & Residences is set
to open on March 23, the CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa this summer and the
Belmond Cap Juluca in November. Reopening dates have not been announced for
Altamer, Anacaona Boutique Hotel, Arawak Beach Inn or Anguilla Great House
Meanwhile, Villas of Distinction said 63% of its Anguilla
villas, or 40 of 64 units, are open, and the tourist board said the island has
more than 600 guestrooms available in villas, small hotels and apartment
St. Barth Properties' Villa Nikki is open.
The problem is not limited to villas. Small hotels also are
being hurt by the closings of the islands' largest properties.
Stephanie Monnet, reservations manager at the 25-room
LeVillage Saint-Barth Hotel, said that prebooked guests were surprised to find
that the property had never closed; they had assumed they'd have to rebook or
get a refund.
"People have the wrong information on what's going on
on the island," she said. "Because
the [largest] hotels are closed, people think we're closed, which is not the
Airlift remains a problem
That does not seem to be enough to sway the airlines, which
drastically cut airlift to Puerto Rico and St. Martin, the islands that
Anguilla and St. Barts depend upon for their guests' arrivals.
St. Barts and Anguilla have small airports that can only accept
small, regional aircraft. The majority of their tourists take short flights or
ferries from larger islands.
As a result, they've borne an outsized impact from the
reduction in airline capacity to both St. Martin and Puerto Rico following the
storms: The Caribbean Tourist Organization reported that in December, Puerto
Rico lost more than 162,000 airline seats, a drop of 33% compared with December
2016, while St. Martin lost more than 84,800 seats, a drop of 35%.
"That's your biggest challenge with regard to full
recovery," Lassman said. "Getting the St. Martin airport up and
running and getting the capacity back in, that's the challenge this winter for
St. Barts and Anguilla."
Peg Walsh, president of St. Barth Properties, said that the
airlift problem was "very frustrating for our clients" and cited
examples of people who wanted to book but were stymied by the lack of flight
"A lot of clients just rolled over to the same dates
next year, so next season we're already quite booked," she said.
In contrast, in Turks and Caicos, which also suffered a
major hit from the storms but where the hotels and airlift rebounded quickly,
villa rentals are thriving, Lassman said.
Villa bookings were strong in Anguilla and St. Barts over
the holidays, as owners reduced minimum stays and offered other incentives,
though generally not in the form of lower prices, Walsh said. There was still
some unusual last-minute holiday availability on both islands, inventory that
is often scooped up by the end of the previous summer.
Walsh said that bookings in March are "really good,"
thanks to a three-day yacht race around St. Barts that "brings a lot of
people and crew. That's good."
Lassman said the villa situation presents opportunity for
both agents and clients.
"I think you'll see value," he said, adding that
Villas of Distinction will launch a Caribbean sale this month. "We want to
create value for the consumer and show them the destination is ready for
customers. ... That is what is going to drive people. They want to have good