Gay Nagle Myers
Gay Nagle Myers

As we head into a new year, I was curious about the trends that made headlines in Caribbean travel in 2019. Here's what I found:

* Wellness travel continues to surge.  Announcements from hotel companies and brands  regularly extoll the size of and amenities at their fitness centers and spas.

There's been an uptick in people who exercise while traveling, according to the 2019 Fitness Trends study by ClassPass, a U.S.-based  fitness company, that found that 18% of travelers booked workouts when they traveled for business and leisure.

Resorts capitalizing on this fitness craze include the BodyHoliday in St. Lucia, which has joined with the team that's bringing the new Wellness Music Festival to St. Lucia Sept. 24 to 26. The festival is designed for those who want to experience the power of music along with the added benefit of wellness-specific activities at the resort, including spa treatments, locally sourced healthy cuisine and health-based talks.

According to the Global Wellness Institute, "People need to get more out of their vacations. They now have to come back feeling better than ever before."

In January, Amanyara resort in the Turks and Caicos will debut wellness immersions, customized to the traveler's wellness goals and length of stay. The resort also will host the Journey to Peace: Purifying Meditation at the Ocean retreat Feb. 18 to 22 at its spa, wellness studio and fitness and yoga centers.

* Luxury travel has been described as "the fastest business model transformation since the 1850s," according to economist Kjell Nordstrom, a speaker at the International Luxury Travel Mart in Cannes.

He described luxury travelers as travelers concerned about the well-being of themselves, others and the planet.

These high-end travelers represent a small portion of the population, but they spend a lot  and are concerned about sustainability, overtourism and climate change, according to Nordstrom.

* Experiential travel is a trend that popped up frequently throughout 2019 with  a number of innovative programs designed to impact tourism in positive, responsible ways.

At the Hamanasi Adventure & Dive Resort in Belize, for example, guests are encouraged to interact and connect with locals through Mayan cooking classes and visits to the homes of Mayans to learn about local customs and traditions.
A program called Pack for a Purpose assists travelers who want to bring donations and supplies to destinations when they travel. The company accepts only supplies that have been requested by community participants, according to founder Rebecca Rothney.

* Sustainability and concern about the implications of climate change in the region; for example, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, guests are encouraged to use nontoxic sunscreens to help prevent further bleaching of fragile coral reefs; many hotels have jumped to eliminate single-use plastics and are handing out refillable glass water bottles and adding water stations throughout the resorts; and several restaurants on French St. Martin have swapped out paper menus for chalkboard listings.

* Corporate sustainability trended in 2019, and it was one that drew the attention of several hotel companies, including Hilton.

"Our mission is to cut our environmental footprint in half and to get our guests to come on this journey with us. We have a fiduciary responsibility to our guests to help them travel more sustainably," said Caroline Meledo, director of corporate responsibility and human rights.

Hilton's Travel With Purpose initiative includes supporting local communities by purchasing produce from local farms and seafood from local fishermen for the hotel restaurants.

The focus for Marriott International is to be "the most responsibly sustainable hotel company in the world," according to Denise Naguib, vice president of sustainability and supplier diversity. Examples of projects to support and promote local sustainable measures include the planting of trees in mangrove locales and purchasing produce and other foodstuffs from local farmers.

* Voluntourism made big headlines after Hurricane Dorian slammed Grand Bahama Island and the Abacos in September.

Hundreds of volunteers participated in rescue and recovery operations. Ferry companies and cruise lines transported workers, construction supplies and food to the affected islands, including thousands of meals prepared by chef Jose Andres and his team in the kitchens of Atlantis Paradise Island in Nassau.

* Other trends that emerged or remained in 2019: Instagram-worthy travel photography; the boom in the sharing economy, now a mainstay accommodations option on many Caribbean islands; and vegan-friendly menus and offerings in resort restaurants.

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