7 Events of 2017 that Are Impacting Caribbean Travel in 2018Jan 12, 2018
By: Ed Wetschler
"The Caribbean had been performing at a healthy growth rate of 5.2 percent between January and June," said CTO (Caribbean Tourism Organization) chair Joy Jibrilu at this fall's State of the Tourism Industry Conference, and growth continued to soar this summer until September, when two Category 5 hurricanes crashed the party. Let's see how this and other events of 2017 will affect the islands -- and you -- in 2018.
1. Hurricanes Irma and Maria
Photo: The Buccaneer Mermaid Beach
The ways this double disaster may affect you are not always the obvious ones, and that remark comes with a spoiler alert: It will affect your travel plans much less than you might think:
- Which islands weren't affected? The majority. In fact, most of the Caribbean wasn't even grazed by hurricanes. Moreover, it's business as usual in five of the six most-visited island destinations: Aruba, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Cuba.
- Even Puerto Rico, the sixth most popular island, is receiving cruise ship passengers, and more than 100 hotels are operating. This is possible because San Juan is the island's main tourism hub, and it was built like a fort (some of it IS forts), so it withstood Hurricane Maria better than the hinterlands. Also, power was restored there before almost anywhere else in Puerto Rico, much of which is still in the dark.
- Hotels and attractions on islands that took a glancing blow (e.g. Antigua, the Turks & Caicos, the Dominican Republic, Nassau-Paradise Island, even Cuba) recovered so quickly that they're welcoming visitors as if nothing had ever happened.
- Even harder-hit islands such as Anguilla and St. Barths are welcoming visitors, especially to villas, and in 2018 most hotels that are still closed will reopen. In the US Virgin Islands you can visit St. Croix, where The Buccanneer, Caravelle, the new Fred, and other hotels are open. Most hotels in the British Virgin Islands are still rebuilding, but many visitors to the BVI stay on chartered boats, and The Moorings has resumed operations.
- So which islands are still reeling? St. Maarten/Martin, Dominica, two of the three major US Virgin Islands (St. John and St. Thomas), and to some extent, the BVI. That's all.
- Finally, an etiquette question: Would it be insensitive for you to vacation this winter on an island like Puerto Rico, where many residents are still suffering? Actually, the authorities want you to come. As CTO Secretary General Hugh Riley says, "The best way to support the Caribbean is to visit the Caribbean."
2. More White House Restrictions on Travel to Cuba
Photo: Cuba Havana Boulevard, Credit: Ed Wetschler
In June Pres. Trump set off alarms by narrowing the options on visits to Cuba. but for perspective, remember this:
- Even if you're an American restricted to people-to-people programs, you can still visit via cruise ship, as this reporter did with Celestyal Cruises. It felt like a real visit to Cuba, too, because a substantial portion of the ship's crew were Cuban, and cultural programs maintained the Cuban theme as we sailed from port to port.
- Moreover, tour operators can still offer land-based people-to-people tours by using approved hotels and privately owned casa particulares. "Travel to Cuba may slow down for awhile," says Peggy Goldman of Friendly PLanet Travel, "but it will continue and eventually grow even stronger than before."
- Meanwhile, because the White House's restrictions frightened some Americans away from Cuba, rates for Havana hotels declined. If you're Canadian or British, this is a good year to revisit Cuba.
3. The Boom in Hotels and Rental Homes
Competition to fill rooms this year will be fierce in spite of the fact that hurricanes temporarily knocked some islands' hotels out of commission. Why? In part, it's because of people's misperception that the whole Caribbean is a wreck (see #1, above). But there's another issue, too: The room supply is increasing dramatically.
At last count, almost 250 hotel projects totaling more than 42,000 rooms were under contract in the Caribbean-Mexico region. Blue Diamond (e.g. Royalton Resorts) alone opened six Caribbean resorts in 2017, and that's not counting the rebranding of Jolly Beach. Three resorts opened in Jamaica in just a single week in October, and one is the blockbuster Jewel Montego Bay. In late 2017 Park Hyatt unveiled its first hotel in the Caribbean (on St. Kitts), Hilton announced it would extend its brand to St. Lucia, and AirBnB's room count on the islands soared to 80,000. Oh, and in 2018 AMResorts (e.g. Secrets, Breathless, Dreams, Sunscape, etc...) will move closer to its goal of operating 100 Caribbean resorts. This adds up to a lot of rooms to fill, so you'll see discounts and value-added packages that make this a terrific year for visiting the region.
4. An Airport Unlocked a Nation
Photo: The Argyle International Airport had it's first full day of operation on February 14th, 2017
Celebrities have long enjoyed Mustique, in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, but relatively few other people -- and that may include you -- have visited the country because it was hard to get there. Then, in 2017, Argyle International Airport finally opened on St. Vincent, Air Canada Rouge announced it would fly there, and nonstops from the more populous United States are almost inevitable. This archipelago is gorgeous, so now you can put it on your list. P.S. As I write this, a link has appeared on Twitter that directs people to http://www.grenadinesinvestments.com/. Coincidence?
5. Bermuda Rediscovered Its Mojo
Photo: Bermuda welcomed the 35th America's Cup with clear seas and a brisk breeze. Credit: © ACEA 2017 | Gilles Martin-Raget
In 2017 Bermuda hosted the Americas Cup and upped its marketing of adventure activities to lure younger travelers. Rosewood Tucker's Point acquired a new name and renovation plan, Century Casinos applied for a license to operate, and Bermuda welcomed a whopping 15% more visitors than it had in 2016. In sum, this British Overseas Territory that was used to be a haven for decidedly upmarket visitors wants you to visit in 2018.
6. Leisure Travelers Rediscovered Kingston
Photo: Bob Marley Museum, Credit: Jim Smith
Most vacationers in Jamaica have never seen the capital city, but in 2016 a highway finally connected it to the north coast. Then Island Routes started offering day-trips, so now you can make pilgrimages to the sacred Bob Marley Museum. Also, in 2017 Devon House declared itself the Gastronomic Centre of Jamaica and a new culinary trail guided visitors into the Kingston area's Blue Mountains. In short, you might find yourself in Kingston this year.
7. Nassau-Paradise Island's Hotel Binge
Photo: Baha Mar Nicklaus Golf Course
Baha Mar opened at last, Atlantis Paradise Island re-invented the Coral Tower and the entire resort's mission, the Warwick and RIU adults-only resorts debuted, the Pointe Nassau started to revive its swath of downtown, and the One&Only Ocean Club became a Four Seasons. Throw in the existing options, which range from Graycliff Hotel & Restaurant to Melia to Breezes, and your options for holidays on Nassau-Paradise Island -- as in the region on the whole -- have multiplied.