The Grenada Tourism Authority began the year with a new face at the helm, initiatives set to launch and the addition of Mint to its airlift portfolio.
Patricia Maher joined the authority as its CEO on Dec. 19 just as the high season was getting underway. Maher is a former country manager for Digicel Grenada and previously served as general manager for Go Caribic Tours. Together with her colleague Francine Stewart, who joined as marketing manager in August from her post at Sandals LaSource Grenada as resort sales manager, the two professionals plan a targeted approach to marketing strategies in Grenada's source markets.
Grenada plans to launch its first agent specialist program, currently under development.
"It is very important for us to know who is selling and booking Grenada, to recognize them after they book and to give them the proper tools needed to do their job," Maher said.
"We want agents to book and sell all our properties and to learn all that Grenada has to offer its visitors, their clients. Our goals are to develop brand and product awareness, further develop our niche markets and grow arrivals and numbers, and we need our travel agents as strong partners in this."
The tourism authority also plans mega-fam trips, similar to the one that Sandals LaSource Grenada hosted three years ago when it brought 2,500 agents to the island over a four-month period.
"Sandals is so important for the destination," Stewart said, who added that Grenada's arrival numbers increased 17% in 2014, after the resort opened the previous December. "The Sandals brand has strong marketing power and listens to its guests who are always looking for new destinations to visit and explore."
As far as visitors getting to Grenada, there are changes on that front.
JetBlue's Mint service begins Jan. 21 with a 16-seat flight from New York JFK and runs through April, Maher said. "But we are hoping it will become year-round," she added.
JetBlue offers five year-round weekly flights to Grenada from New York, up from four; a Monday service began Jan. 9.
Stewart said that American is changing its arrival/departure times on its daily flight from Miami, effective April 4. The flight will now depart Miami at 10:45 a.m., arriving at 2:23 p.m. A quick turnaround will have the flight departing Grenada at 3:13 p.m., arriving Miami at 7:07 p.m. (Current times are a 3:53 p.m. departure from Miami, arriving in Grenada 8:15 p.m.; and a departure from Grenada at 8:30 a.m., arriving in Miami at 11:25 a.m.)
"We have hoped for this for a long time," Stewart said. "Now visitors have time to get settled in and have a swim before dinner on arrival day as well as more time on the beach on departure day."
Grenada's 2016 visitor count is still being tallied, but year-over-year stayover numbers increased 3% and cruise figures were up 21% over 2015.
The U.S. market constitutes 34% of total stayover visitors, 34% of cruise arrivals and 36% of yacht arrivals.
"Our hotels are projecting a strong winter, with some properties forecasting 85% occupancies through the peak season," Maher said.
Room count on Grenada currently stands at 1,500, but properties on the horizon will add 408 rooms to the inventory. These include the 176-room Levera Beach Resort, which will debut its first phase next December, the 86-room Silver Sands, also opening its first phase at the end of the year, and the 146-key Kimpton Kawana Bay Resort, which is targeted to open in early 2019.
"These properties target the luxury market," Stewart said. "They will offer some all-inclusive options but are not all-inclusive resorts."
On the calendar this year is the Grenada
Invitational track and field event April 8, the Pure Grenada Music
Festival May 5 through 7 and Spicemas (Carnival) Aug. 9 through 15 -- as well as the island's first opportunity to host the Caribbean Tourism Organization's State of the Industry Conference, in October.
"This is a huge opportunity for us to showcase the island, its accommodations, activities, culinary offerings, culture and people," Maher said.