ocation, they say, is everything. And
location could be the key factor for the Caribbean in this strange
The region features packages and products loaded with discounted
prices and perks for war-jittery, travel-wary clients when agents
can convince them to forsake the backyard barbecue for the
With the demand for international travel down, "people will
choose places in the U.S. and the Caribbean because those places
are seen as safety zones," said Aimee Ricca, owner of Bonne Amie
Travel and Dreamtime Journeys USA in Rockport, Maine.
That's just what Richard Doumeng, general manager of Bolongo Bay
Beach Club in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, is counting on.
"It's a big factor in the decision-making process for some
travelers to be able to take off under the U.S. flag and land on
U.S. soil," he said. "The U.S. Virgin Islands combines the ease of
domestic travel with the international experience."
Jean Holder, secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism
Organization (CTO), reminded members that "peace of mind, security,
the perception of safety and the investment our customers" must be
"Safe haven" is how Eileen Kennedy, executive vice president of
Gogo Worldwide Vacations, described the Caribbean.
"We're confident that travelers will continue to perceive the
region as safe, secure and friendly," she said.
Hugh Riley, the CTO's marketing director for the Americas,
described the task at hand as one of "promoting hospitality in a
time of hostility."
Gordon "Butch" Stewart, chairman of Sandals and Beaches Resorts,
agreed. "We must reassure travelers that our Caribbean resorts are
close to home, welcome U.S. citizens and are flexible in terms of
cancellations and rescheduling," he said.
Agents, such as Kim Wilson of Hollowbrook Travel in Fishkill,
N.Y., are trying to do just that.
"Clients are booking very close in to their travel dates. When
people decide to travel, they want to go right then," Wilson said.
"We can offer them a variety of well-priced packages that often
help seal the deal on the spot."
Given those guidelines, hotels and destinations are scrambling
to position the Caribbean as a destination that's near, safe and
loaded with value-driven products that agents can sell -- a
marketing focus that has been in place since 9/11.
Operators, hotels and airlines have revised their cancellation
and rebooking policies to eliminate penalties and help stem the
potential loss of business and a drop in call volume for new
A complete list of policies and procedures can be viewed at the
CTO's Web site, located at www.caribbean.org, as well as at www.travelweekly.com.
Maintaining "open lines of communication with travel agents" is
a key strategy "more important now than ever before," Riley
"The Caribbean region is dependent upon agents to continue to
book and sell business."
For more on this topic, see related stories:
• Hotels get creative to entice clients
• Facts and tidbits on Caribbean life.