SOMERSET, N.J. -- Cluster marketing was the idea behind the formation of the Marriott Offshore Resort Network in January 1998, according to Gary Grove, director of sales and marketing.

That and the "tenacious hotel competition" now present in the Caribbean fueled the move toward a concentrated sales force to motivate clients to move from one Marriott property to another within the region, Grove said.

The network began with four properties: the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino; the Castle Harbour Marriott Resort in Bermuda, and the two Marriott Casa Magna Resorts in Cancun and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

"Our aim was then and still is to cluster the sales and marketing resources of the resorts to expedite sales of outbound U.S. travel to the properties," Grove said. "It just makes sense to sell the hotels as a group rather than maintain individual sales organizations for each property."

The Renaissance Grand Beach Resort in St. Thomas joined the network in January, which sparked the name change to Offshore Resorts. Grove explained that the change was done "to accommodate other Marriott brands, such as Renaissance, that have joined or will join the network."

Marriott International signed a 25-year management contract for the former Sonesta Curacao Resort & Casino, effective June 1. The 248-room property will be renamed the Curacao Marriott Resort & Emerald Casino later this year, following a series of upgrades.

The addition of the Curacao property brings Offshore Resorts to six properties, with a total of 2,228 guest rooms.

Not all Marriotts have joined the Offshore Resorts' family. Marriott's Frenchman's Reef & Morning Star Beach Resorts in St. Thomas, for example, reopened in 1997 following a dramatic renovation after the hurricanes of 1995.

With the extensive changes and expansions, Frenchman's is effectively a new product in the marketplace and has chosen to advertise and market on its own, outside of the Offshore Resorts' umbrella, Grove said. (Marriott's other Caribbean resorts are located in the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Puerto Rico.)

Cluster marketing benefits not only the customer but also the hotels themselves, according to Grove. "The resorts can buy into co-op ads and public relations efforts as a group, as well as participate in wholesale marketing efforts and group contracts," he said. However, the properties also can choose to continue their individual advertising as well.

Prior to the formation of Offshore Resorts, "each individual hotel had to maintain its own sales organization and marketing budgets. "We have absorbed the sales staff into one overall sales force of 44 people located close to our largest customer bases in Chicago; Los Angeles; Minneapolis/St. Paul; Somerset, N.J., and London," Grove said.

The network plans to continue its concentration in the Caribbean and Mexico. "This is our area of renown, and there is good growth for us in this region," Grove said. Growth is already evident in Offshore Resorts' relationships with its customers and travel partners, such as wholesalers and incentive houses.

Room nights at each property tracked since the launch of the network have risen on a consistent basis, he said. Under Grove's direction, the network expanded its reservations center in Miami and staffed it with trained resort specialists who can handle specific inquiries from agents.

According to Grove, Offshore Resorts has boosted its efforts aimed at retail agents by creating a separate sales and marketing staff to handle that aspect of the industry. Heading that operation is Phil Young, director of travel agency sales for the network.

"The feedback is positive, and we now have a better presence in the field," he said. The retail focus includes greater visibility with agents and the ability to "tweak packages and rates to make them easier for agents to sell," Grove said.

Offshore Resorts is developing inclusive packages for its properties, such as the programs currently offered in the Mexico resorts.

The packages, which could be available as early as this summer, will be available for individuals as well as groups.

Offshore Resorts

Phone: (800) 223-6388

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI