Accommodations: Summer awaits after good high season

Cayman’s hotels and condos reported good figures for the high season. But what lies ahead for the traditionally-slower summer months?  

 

Seven Mile Beach was summed up by Thomas Mason, general manager of Comfort Suites. 

“Comfort Suites enjoyed a record breaking winter season with high occupancy and highest rates ever recorded. The decision to invest $2.5 million in renovations really paid off,” he said. 

“Currently Comfort Suites is pacing ahead of last year [for the upcoming season] with rates remaining steady despite huge rate drops from other larger hotels for the summer.” 

At the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort, director of sales and marketing Laura Skec reported that occupancy was flat to 2012. However, this was an astronomically high 96 per cent, which has been the case for the past three seasons. 

“[W]e had a favourable scenario to increase average daily rate due to the outstanding demand,” she noted. 

The Marriott in fact has been surpassing pre-recession average daily rate and revenue per available room levels in the past three high seasons going back to 2011, she said. 

Skec added that with Spring Break and Easter both in March a compression effect was created for that month. 

“However the impression is that this factor shortened our high season and impacted the transient pace for April. Pace of booking [for the upcoming season] is softer than the previous year, however we are undergoing rooms enhancements over that period of the year leaving part of our inventory out of the market.” 

The Reef in East End also reported good occupancy and ability to drive rates up, said marketing director, Paul Robinson. He also noted that locals were now a significant part of the summer market. 

“Our Staycation Club members are coming to the Reef in increasing numbers. It seems vacationing on island instead of dealing with all the hassles of today’s air travel is gaining in popularity. We have no weight restrictions, no screening and all guests go ‘first class’. The club membership has exceeded our wildest expectations, and many are spending long weekends at the Reef, especially on holidays. This helps drive occupancy.  

“The rest of the summer is questionable. Most properties on the island, including the Reef, have specials of fifth night free or Food and Beverage credits. We are seeing shorter a booking window in the US and Canadian markets. Our European guests normally book further out, and book longer stays,” said Robinson. 

During the autumn, he added, the resort would be offering a free night programme exclusively for island residents who belonged to the Staycation Club. This helps drive occupancy in a traditionally slow period. 

“The Department of Tourism is doing a good messaging job of presenting the island to our North American market,” he concluded. 

“Diving seems to be on the uptick. The Reef is a resort that offers diving, not a dive resort. We benefit greatly from families where not all members dive. The rest enjoy the fact that we have restaurants, a bar, tennis, a spa, and a complete line of water sports. As the islands’ only resort offering a true all–inclusive programme, we benefit from those looking for an all-inclusive vacation. This seems to be an increasing segment of our guests,” he said. 

The condos and villas sector also reported a good high season, with Sherry Lee explaining that 2012/13 was up by 4 per cent compared to 2011/12. 

“[This was due to the] US economy out of recession and holding strong, confidence is returning,” she said. 

“I believe the occupancy would be have been greater if the accommodation tax had not been raised to 13 per cent on 18 December, 2012.” 

Rates have been fairly consistent, added Lee. 

“We have had to take a hard stance on refusing discounts as that is the recession mentality and you need to wean the public off that habit.” 

“Businesses that have rode out the recession need to recover their losses so can no longer offer dramatic discounts. This aids economic stability which everyone will benefit from in the long run.” 

Two months into the summer season, the occupancy levels are more or less the same as 2012 with a small 2.5 per cent drop, continued Lee. 

“At the end of this season we will defiantly surpass last year’s Summer but by how much will be dependent on just how active the hurricane season turns out to be,” she said. 

“The occupancy increase has been slow and steady, 2012 saw a 3.5 per cent increase compared to 2011 and so far just 6 months into 2013 the occupancy is just 1.3 per cent below the total occupancy for 2012. For occupancy to continue to increase the tourism sector needs support and investment for the government more now than ever.” 

Businesses are utilising extra incentives to draw visitation and in the case of Cayman Villas that means a fifth night free for the summer and autumn seasons, which has proved popular in the past. 

Jane van der Bol, executive director of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, noted that March had been a ‘record-breaking’ month for stayover tourism. 

“Hotels, restaurants, attractions, watersports and transportation members have been quite busy. Hotels have advised us that their occupancy numbers are up and the other sectors have noted that they have had full tours and busy catering to tourists,” van der Bol said. 

“Summer is a time for family and vacations. The Cayman Islands Department of Tourism, with input from the [association] and the tourism private sector, have rebranded Summer Splash this year with a new and exciting promotion called Summer Only In Cayman.” 

The executive director noted that accommodations and airlines were in the front line as most visitors booked air and hotel first. 

“However, there are great offers from restaurants, attractions, diving and watersports and more. We are reaching out to the families with kids looking for fun things to do in the summer,” she explained. 

The biggest challenges for certain sectors of tourism in the upcoming summer months would be negotiating slow days with few or no cruise ships in port. 

“We have several weeks throughout the summer months with only two days of cruise ships,” she warned. 

As to the future, the Cayman Islands Tourism Association would like top tourism issues dealt with and in particular a reduction in the cost of doing business in order that those savings be passed on to visitors, she said. Infrastructural issues also remained a priority amongst many other issues. 

“We would like see a cruise berthing facility and pleased to hear the government is working hard on this project. We would like to see more cost effective work permit fees and process. We’d like to see more gateways open up so we can bring new tourists to our Cayman shores.  

“We would also like to see Cayman apply for World Heritage Site for our Cayman marine parks like Bloody Bay and Stingray Sandbar. We’d like to see initiatives to stimulate renewable energy projects for tourism properties,” concluded the tourism chief. 

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All Comfort Suites rooms have been refurnished and new business suites have been introduced after a significant renovation.

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Skec

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