If there was any doubt that the luxury market has seen an upturn, requests and reservations for the services of the "boating butler" at the Westin St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands dispelled that notion.
"Our guests love this new feature," said Jim Curtis, director of sales and marketing, Caribbean, for Starwood Hotels & Resorts. "Travel agents can reserve boating trips for their clients prior to the guests' arrival at the resort. Their butler will take them through the details of their excursions once they are at the property."
An added incentive is the $150 resort credit that can be used toward the rental of a boat for a half-day or full-day Island Hopper excursion, one of a series of just-launched summer season packages, Curtis said.
Boats range in size from dinghies to crewed catamarans. A full-day catamaran excursion is priced at $425 per person.
"We've seen boat rentals increase, and we are seeing guests spending more during their resort stays and booking earlier," Curtis said. "This is all part of the general turnaround and upswing that we have tracked thus far this year."
Advance bookings also are trending upward. More than 50% of the resort already is booked for the Christmas holiday season.
The resort offers transfers from St. Thomas aboard its Westin Breeze ferry for $110 per person roundtrip, which includes the shuttle from the airport to the ferry dock. Check-in takes place during the 30-minute boat ride. Upon arrival at the resort, guests and their baggage can go immediately to their rooms.
"This is very popular, especially with corporate groups," Curtis said.
Guests also can opt to take the $4 public ferry in Red Hook on St. Thomas across Cruz Bay to the property.
The family market is growing at the resort, according to Curtis. The new staff position of "director of fun" has been added to work with kids and parents to help select family-oriented activities. This is in addition to the Westin Kids Club for ages 3 to 12; half-day programs are $30 per child; the full-day program is priced at $60 with lunch.
Meanwhile, Starwood is eyeing further Caribbean expansion to bolster its regional portfolio, according to Curtis.
The hotel firm opened the W Vieques property in Puerto Rico in April, will debut the St. Regis Bahia Beach outside of San Juan in October and launched the Sheraton in San Juan at the convention center last December.
"We have the Sheraton in Nassau, the Westin in Aruba and we hope to grow further," he said.
Starwood's development projects in St. Lucia and the Dominican Republic stalled in 2009, due to financing and ownership issues, although Curtis is optimistic that these will be resolved.