How is the Caribbean villa market doing this year?I posed that question to Steve Lassman, vice president of Villas of Distinction, a division of World Travel Holdings (No. 19 on Travel Weekly's 2018 Power List).
"Great," he answered. "We're having a very strong year on top of a good year in 2018, despite the hurricanes of 2017 which knocked out inventory on several islands."
The villa company's current portfolio numbers more than 2,600 properties in 50 countries, almost half of which are in the Caribbean.
As for destinations that are leading the pack in villa rental bookings so far this year, Lassman ticked off Turks and Caicos, Barbados, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, and he added that St. Barts and Anguilla "are very active. They have recovered well from the hurricanes."
The bounceback has not been as rapid on other of the storm-impacted islands, but Lassman said, "there is progress." On St. Martin, he said, 93 villas on both sides of the island are back in operation from a pre-storm level of 200; St. John's inventory is back; and he said he was "hopeful" that more openings in St. Thomas and the British Virgin Islands will happen as recovery continues.
Clients whose villa vacations were disrupted or canceled due to the hurricanes received full refunds "and they've returned to us with new bookings," according to Lassman. "We have a 25% repeat rental rate across the board, which represents a great business opportunity for travel advisors," he said.
The average travel advisor sale is based on a weekly price of a five-bedroom villa with pool and staff ranges between $18,000 and $25,000, he said, although many are higher during the winter season. Commission is 10%.
Interest is running high for the next Christmas and New Year's season.
"We're seeing really early bookings, and I advise travel advisors to tell their clients not to wait to book, especially for the big beachfront villas that families want," he said. The booking window, which Lassman said had compressed several years ago, "is now much earlier ... Clients who wait too long to book will find something, but it will not their first or second choice."
Explaining the strategies of booking early will be incorporated into a monthly webinar series that Villas of Distinction is launching April 23 on its website www.villasofdistinction.com.
"Travel advisors want to sell villas, but many overlook it because they don't know how to do it," he said. "The webinars are designed to educate agents. We'll start with an overview of the villa business; the ins and outs of the destinations we feature; describe our portfolio; present an overview of the villa vacation experience as a form of travel with tips, advice and tools designed for renting villas; and the opportunities for those who book and sell the villas."
Subsequent 30-minute webinars will focus on specific villa destinations, with facts and descriptions of each locale given by experts in the field.
"We stand behind each villa in our collection, because we know that agents cannot sell a luxury product without it having been vetted, inspected and backed by us," Lassman said. "Our philosophy has always been 'guests first.' You can never go wrong with that."
Meanwhile, a villa promotion is launching: villas booked between April 15 and May 15, for travel through Nov. 15, will include a $400 transportation credit on each booking that can be used toward a rental car, golf cart, bikes or car-and-driver.