Discounts beckon clients to off-season Caribbean

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InsightWe've been on the prowl for great off-season deals, this time to the Caribbean, and for inside information to help retailers gain a sense of advance booking levels on fall and winter trips.

At host agency Expedia CruiseShipCenters, President Matthew Eichhorst said business is looking "quite promising."

"We believe that many customers deferred their travel plans during the worst of the economic uncertainty and now wish to take advantage of the great value that cruising offers," he said.

Indeed, clients who wish to cruise the Caribbean in November and December will find low rates. A sweep through Expedia CruiseShipCenters' consumer site found a four-night November cruise, roundtrip from Miami aboard Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Dawn, priced at $252 per person.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Line's Navigator of the Seas, sailing four nights roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale, dangles a rate of $289 per person in November.

Fares are slightly higher on a December cruise, aboard Holland America Line's Nieuw Amsterdam, where a four-night, roundtrip sailing from Fort Lauderdale begins at $449 per person.

These off-season deals won't bankroll an agent's commission account, but they might prompt more groups to take the plunge between now and the holidays -- and more clients booked mean more agent pay.

Eichhorst indicated that advance bookings have gained steam for trips farther afield.

Many travelers, he said, are back to booking nine to 12 months in advance for Europe, exotic and longer vacations, and the agency is seeing "impressive growth" with its premium, deluxe and river cruise partners.

"During the past two months," he said, "our river cruise bookings have increased by approximately 50% over last year."

But, back to the Caribbean.

Land-based resorts, too, deeply discount rates at this time of year. One upmarket resort on St. Lucia has thrown open its doors to fall visitors with a 55% reduction in nightly rates. The property, Windjammer Landing Villa Beach Resort, further sweetens the deal with up to $200 per night in resort credits.

Managing Director Anthony Bowen is optimistic and said he expects there will be some improvement over 2009, but he still sees some resistance in the market now and for 2011.

"Advance bookings are occurring, but not at the pace pre-recession," he told TravelWeekly.com, adding, "We appreciate the support we receive from the travel agent community which has made the difference in this difficult economic time."

The discounts at Windjammer are valid through Dec. 19 and range from $135 for a suite to $247 for a one-bedroom villa with plunge pool and $599 for a four-bedroom villa with plunge pool.

The resort bills itself as ideal for family vacations and group and incentive travel, since the villas can accommodate several people. It also markets its appeal as a couples escape.

The resort credits, called Sun Dollars, can be used for room upgrades, airport transfers, meal packages, spa treatments and other amenities.

Agents can learn more at www.windjammer-landing.com.

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