St Jamess Club PoolWith nine resorts on seven islands, a new agent-reward promotion program, steady growth in its destination wedding business and the launch of a redesigned website, things are looking up for Elite Island Resorts, according to President Steve Heydt.

"Our overall business is up about 10% year over year, occupancies have increased, rates are a bit higher than a year ago, but the average daily revenues are a mix of up and down," he said.

Looking ahead to the winter season, Elite's booking picture is fairly strong, with more people planning trips further in advance.

Heydt cautioned, however, that "the full-pricing days are over. All properties have to be rate-sensitive now."

Elite's new agent-reward program, in which agents receive American Express gift cards when they book directly with Elite, "has heightened agents' awareness of our properties," according to Heydt.

Agents earn a $50 card for a booking of three to six nights and a $100 card for each booking of seven nights or longer. Reservations must be made by Dec. 31, 2010, for travel through Dec. 31, 2011.

Participating resorts include St. James's Club & Villas, Galley Bay Resort & Spa and the Verandah Resort & Spa, all on Antigua; Long Bay Beach Resort & Villas in Tortola, British Virgin Islands; Palm Island in the Grenadines; and LaSource in Grenada.

(Elite's three remaining properties -- Village Inn & Spa on St. Lucia, Nelson Spring Beach Villas & Spa on Nevis and Settlers' Beach on Barbados -- are not part of the gift card promotion.)

Agents can redeem their rewards directly at www.eliteislandresorts.com/rewards, and the card is issued directly by Elite on the day clients depart for travel.

The card can be used anywhere that American Express is accepted.

"I'm pleased with the number of agents who have registered for the program," Heydt said. "To date, it's about 1,000 agents who, before this, had little recognition of our direct-booking program."

The program is new, but by mid-August, more than 250 gift cards had been distributed.

Elite treatment

In terms of company growth, Elite Island Resorts added LaSource in Grenada to its Caribbean portfolio in June.

The firm is handling the global sales and marketing for the 100-room, all-inclusive property and is promoting it as the "leading spa resort in the Caribbean," Heydt said.

LaSource GrenadaLaSource, located on Pink Gin Beach, has a spa with 18 treatment rooms, two Vichy showers and a hydrotherapy tub. Other resort facilities include four restaurants, three bars, three pools, a nine-hole golf course, activities and watersports.

"Every guest at LaSource receives one free spa treatment per day, no matter what room category they are in," Heydt said. "Guests who arrive at night are not charged for the night. It's not fair to them to arrive in the evening and be charged for a full day, so we give them that first night free of charge."

Under the Elite Island Resorts umbrella, LaSource now has more tools to "proactively drive its business, such as Internet marketing, technology and an elevated level of service and operations," Heydt said.

All-inclusive rates through Dec. 15 start at $235 per person, per night, double; winter season rates start at $494 per person, per night.

Several Elite properties have expanded or been renovated within the past two years.

The 251-room St. James's Club in Antigua completed a $20 million upgrade last year that included the opening of 50 royal suites with king beds, water views, a new pool and a separate check-in area for the suites.

In addition, all of the beachfront rooms received new decor and design motifs, and 48 of those units on the ground floor were converted to family-friendly accommodations with bathtubs and connecting doors between the rooms.

"The second room is free of charge in the off-season, and we will continue incentive pricing during the winter season, as well," Heydt said.

Internet is free of charge in all guest units; the suites have WiFi, as do most of the resort's public areas.

Galley Bay Resort and Spa, AntiguaGalley Bay, also in Antigua, expanded from 69 rooms to 98; all rooms and suites now offer TVs and phones. Each of the 14 Tahitian hut-style cottages is air-conditioned and comes with a plunge pool.

TVs have not been added at Palm Island, except in two new villas -- one a two-bedroom unit, the other a three-bedroom -- but all units now are air-conditioned, and four suites have been added.

Access is better, too. "Airlift from both Barbados and St. Lucia to Union Island with a boat transfer to Palm Island has improved," Heydt said.

"We absorb the airfare from Barbados and St. Lucia on stays of seven or more nights," Heydt said. Shorter stays will cost Palm Island guests close to $400 in roundtrip fare per person.

Eyeing expansion

Elite's portfolio could expand further, according to Heydt. "I would like to add other properties, primarily in the English-speaking Caribbean, but no property will ever be more than 200 rooms."

The firm was set to launch a "more destination-oriented" website this month, Heydt said. The address remains the same: www.eliteislandresorts.com.

"We get more than 150,000 visitors a month now," he said. "The new site will have fewer pages and will take browsers directly to the resort."

As for Elite's relationship with agents, Heydt said, "No other Caribbean-based company spends as much time with American Airlines trying to get fam rates for our agents. From May through November, we offer agents a $199 all-inclusive rate to our properties."

He said that hundreds of agents had taken advantage of the rate.

"We also offer dedicated phone numbers for agents, and more than 70% of our business globally is travel-agent driven," Heydt said.

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