As spring saunters toward summertime, several travel agents have already spotted some trends when taking a look at their bookings for 2017.
Lindsey Epperly, owner of Epperly Travel in Atlanta, reported that "St. Barts is on fire right now with the opening of Le Barthelemy Hotel & Spa last November. It's perfect for couples or families."
Also popular with Epperly's clients this year is the Four Seasons Resort and Residences Anguilla, which opened last fall as a rebranding of the former Viceroy Anguilla.
"The new management and fresh level of service to the super-modern property are fantastic for multigenerational families, groups of friends or destination weddings, thanks to the resort's large villas and suites," Epperly said.
She also singled out Sugar Beach, a Viceroy Resort in St. Lucia. "This remains one of our best sellers. Guests love the views of the scenic Pitons from their guestrooms, which are equipped with butler service and a private plunge pool," Epperly said.
Another recent opening that should be on all travelers' radars, "whether it is families, couples or solo guests, is the Kimpton Seafire Resort & Spa in Grand Cayman. This is a high-four-star property that, in my opinion, operates closer to a five-star experience with its attentive service and beautiful accommodations."
Kimpton Seafire Resort & Spa offers 266 guestrooms with views of Seven Mile Beach on Grand Cayman.
Epperly pointed out that the resort, located at the end of Seven Mile Beach, is "super fun to pair with the lesser-known destination of Cayman Brac and Le Soleil D'or, a gem boutique property."
Resorts with water parks and excursions for kids are what many of the family travel clients of Pam Draper, who owns Travel with Pam in Sewell, N.J., are requesting this year.
"My clients are primarily interested in Punta Cana (Dominican Republic) and Mexico because they still get the most for their money at resorts in those destinations, although high summer airfares to Punta Cana have been an issue," Draper said.
She's noted an increase in bookings to St. Maarten, thanks to nonstop service from nearby Philadelphia, and travel to Turks and Caicos "is on the rise for my clients who want upscale resorts."
Terry Heck, owner of Terry's Travel in Cypress, Texas, described her job as a one-person show, handling the Caribbean with a focus on destination weddings and honeymoons.
"St. Lucia and Jamaica are my top destinations for honeymoons, and Jamaica [is most popular] for destination weddings, with Sandals Ochi Beach Resort as my top seller for a number of years because it has been the most affordable and given the biggest bang for the buck," she said.
This year, however, is a bit different. "I'm seeing a lot of enthusiasm and more bookings for Sandals Montego Bay, and my more upscale brides tend to go with Beaches Turks & Caicos," Heck said.
Sandals Montego Bay's interdenominational chapel serves as venue both for weddings and for weekly church services for guests.
St. Lucia is trending as a popular destination for couples this year at Custom Travel in Wallingford, Conn.
The mix of excursions and scenery plus a mix of all-inclusive resorts and European-style properties provide couples with a unique Caribbean experience, according to Kyle Kastukevich, sales manager.
"Jamaica continues to be a popular family vacation spot. The island continues to add luxury all-inclusives that are perfect for families, but Jamaica works very well for any budget. Clients continue to try new resorts throughout the island and to revisit old favorites," he said.
Destination weddings are increasing among his clients, with Aruba seeing an uptick.
"The island never disappoints. Clients feel safe on Aruba, and that is a huge factor when couples are selecting a destination for their special day," Kastukevich said.
For his upscale clients who seek a more remote destination, Anguilla is the clear winner.
"With the ease of ferries from St. Martin, my clients cannot get enough of this gem," he said, noting the hospitality of the locals and resort employees as well as the perfect beaches.
Over-the-water rooms are trending for Jennifer Doncsecz at VIP Vacations in Bethlehem, Pa.
"Everyone is talking about them! Sandals has built them in Jamaica and St. Lucia and are building more. Another trend we're seeing is that people are traveling in small social groups for birthdays, girlfriend getaways and even group honeymoons," Doncsecz said.
She noted that honeymooners in particular are interested in wine and in resorts that offer wine bars, wine cellars and wine tastings.
More couples seek extra amenities, such as private plunge pools and swim-up rooms "and are willing to spend a little more to have them."
Mark Hennigan, co-owner along with his wife, Laura, of Dreamers Travel in Hampstead, Md., reported that clients celebrating milestone birthdays and anniversaries are heading off the beaten track to destinations that they are not likely to return to again, such as St. Lucia, Antigua, Barbados and Aruba.
Hennigan reported a "huge" increase in requests for room upgrades to family suites or oceanview accommodations.
"This has been our best year ever for smaller groups of four to eight families traveling together. They booked further out and made monthly payments; they love that option," he said.
Destination weddings are surging, with groups ranging between 40 and 80 people, and Jamaica remains the best seller, according to Hennigan.
Solo travel also has increased at his agency, especially at resorts that offer attractive rates for single rooms.
Hennigan's repeat bookings this year account for 42% of total business, while referral-based bookings are 38% of the agency's total volume.
At CheapCaribbean.com, CEO Steve Dumaine reported an increase in the quality and variety of kids' clubs and teen clubs in the Caribbean and Mexico, citing Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts Punta Cana and Now Larimar Punta Cana.
New hotel openings in Jamaica offer low rates to welcome visitors, "which allows them to travel in luxury while on a budget," Dumaine said, noting Breathless Montego Bay Resort & Spa and Zoetry Montego Bay.