Agents who specialize in the Dutch Caribbean region say retailers
should realize that the islands of the Netherlands Antilles are as
different as sisters can be.
The ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao) can help agencies
build strong repeat business with certain types of clients,
according to Willard Kravitz of Globetrotter Travel/American
Express in Owings Mills, Md. The retailer also operates a tour
division called Holidays! (800-638-1832), an official Air Aruba
wholesaler. Air Aruba offers nonstop service to Aruba from nearby
BWIA, which makes reaching these islands easy from his area.
Kravitz says Aruba has served as the gateway to building a loyal
clientele that has made return trips to the island as well as to
Bonaire and Curacao. "Our repeat business to Aruba and Bonaire is
staggering because so many go back year after year after they get
comfortable with the place."
Travel agents can reassure travelers that Aruba lies outside the
hurricane belt, Kravitz says, so clients don't have to worry about
"having their travel plans washed out."
Easy access from the East Coast, fine weather, ample facilities
and international chain hotels make the destination an ideal spot
for honeymooners and first-time travelers to the Caribbean. And
because of its facilities, Aruba is also a good choice for meetings
and incentives groups.
In addition, its relative safety and friendly, English-speaking
residents allow nervous travelers to relax, Kravitz says. "It's an
easy place to visit. It's foreign and exotic enough, and yet, it's
a place with all the comforts of home, so [travelers] don't have to
sacrifice creature comforts."
Satisfaction with Aruba trips has led many of Kravitz' customers
to book return visits, and as a result, the tour division packages
trips combining Aruba with Bonaire or Curacao, or just Bonaire and
Curacao without Aruba. Bonaire also happens to be one of the
world's top diving destinations, he says.
Agents can rely on materials supplied by the island's tourist
boards, Kravitz says. All three islands supply adequate materials,
the best of which are the agent manuals distributed by Aruba and
Curacao, he says. Nonetheless, no printed collateral materials ever
can beat the "first-time fam trip" for its educational impact,
Saba and St. Eustatius are an entirely different kind of sale
than the ABC islands and St. Maarten, according to Gail Hutchins of
All Seasons Travel in Brattleboro, Vt.
Hutchins is a rarity in that she sells several trips to these
unusual islands each year. The community she serves is "real
diverse, with New Yorkers who have seasonal homes here and a mix of
local people, all of whom are looking for vacations that are not in
Usually, she says, her educated, professional clientele have
tried everything else and are looking for something relaxing,
adding that because her clients are so discerning, "I can't get
away with selling what's easy."
The key lure of both Saba and Statia is that visitors can see
"islands like they were a long time ago." Generally speaking, she
says, these customers are retirees who tend to take FIT vacations
no matter where they travel. They tend to stay for two weeks or
more, and are undaunted by travel on propeller planes or
Hutchins says she built her reputation as an expert on these
islands one booking at a time, starting with a customer who now
owns a home on Saba. "It's probably all been networking from the
first person I sent," she says, adding that a few couples she had
booked on Windjammer Cruises later booked return trips to these
islands through her.
As is the case with the ABC islands, Hutchins cites the islands'
tourist boards as the best sources of information.
Although multiple plane and/or ferry trips make getting to these
islands a bit of a hassle, Hutchins says the rewards are worth it
for those she has sent, giving the thumbs up to interisland ferry
service from St. Maarten/St. Martin to Saba and LIAT air service to
Statia from St. Maarten.
Becoming involved in the culture is a main draw on these
islands, Hutchins says, and she encourages her clients to rent
villas or private homes when on Saba or Statia, in order to get
closer to the communities they visit.