Accommodations looking at better season

Since 2008, the hotel and accommodations industry across the Caribbean has suffered from a number of worrying metrics. These include a shortened booking window, which wrecks short-term planning; vastly discounted rates, which take years to recover; customers now have the expectation of being able to negotiate deals. Cayman hotels report that the high season of 2012/13 shows improvement in some – if not all – of these factors. 

The booking window, said Laura Skec, director of sales and marketing at the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort, is around 45 days to two months on the average booking window for transient business, a number echoed by Morty Valldejuli at the Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa, who put leisure as close as 30 days. However, both executives agreed that group and incentive bookings were made well in advance, with months and years the salient timeframes. 

“[Incentive bookings are l]ooking very good,” said Valldejuli. “Stronger than the same time last year.” 

At the Marriott, Skec was sanguine about incentive and travel bookings. 

“Lead generation has also met historical numbers however we see an inclination for contacts to book all inclusive options in other destinations,” she noted. 

“Pace is flat to last year.” 

Advance bookings for high season, said Paul Robinson, marketing director of The Reef, are higher than last year. He commented that the booking window during the winter had improved, but that may be ‘due to consumers trying to get the best airfare, which usually requires booking well in advance.’ 

Comfort Suites has undergone significant renovations, as has the Westin and the Marriott to follow. Thomas Mason, general manager, noted that it was important to ‘crank up service and quality levels.’ 

“Bookings are ahead of last year and we are very encouraged with the pick up,” he noted.  

Keeping the product fresh is key to the continued success within the industry, felt interviewees, including Jamie Monech of the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, who also noted that during the recession the trend around the Caribbean had been to deeply discount room rates. This, she said, was something Cayman as a higher-end destination would struggle to compete with as the target market was different. 

However, in terms of room rate at high demand periods, a recovery was in progress, albeit that the opportunity remained in summer or ‘value’ seasons to still increase prices. A surfeit of Caribbean room stock and aggressive pricing on a regional competitive basis were factors in this, she noted. 

Revenue per available room and average daily rate were both ‘in upswing’, said Valldejuli. 

He pegged that as anywhere between 8 and 10 per cent over 2011 and ‘definitely better than 2009 and 2010.’ However, room rate was recovering slower. 

“[It is s]till very competitive not only on island, but off island competitors. Consumers are much more savvy when looking for deals and deals are out there to be had,” he said. Valldejuli added that he felt that although metrics may return to pre-recession levels in 2013, it would be a slower recovery, linked to economic conditions in key markets. By far Cayman’s largest source market is the United States, which counts for well over 80 per cent of all visitors to the Islands. 


Improvements still possible 

Robinson at The Reef also felt that there was still improvement to be had before being able to say that things were rosy in the tourism garden, 

“[Room rate is recovering] at a moderate pace; ADR and RevPAR are slightly higher than 2009, 2010 and 2011. 

“[The metrics] are increasing but still have a ways to go. We are seeing the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel,” he noted. 

The Marriott, by contrast, reported hitting ‘historical records during 2012,’ added Skec. 

“It has been an outstanding year. We have seen a sustained increase of RevPAR of 40 per cent since 2009 [at the time of the interview]. We have not had rate resistance during the year, actually we have been able to solidly increase our ADR year over year.”
Skec sounded a note of optimism about this continued momentum on a wider sense. 

“The Island continues to be in high demand as a destination,” noted the expert. “The spirit to serve and engage with local associations continues to trend. Activities that connect visitors with causes that impact the local community are of interest. Also since Cayman is a magnet for family vacations, multigenerational resort initiatives that offer a variety of activities for the different group ages are very well welcomed.” 

Valldejuli said that the focus at Westin would be ‘back to the basics in service, refurbished room product, more added value’ and making a big deal of the beach front that they have available. 

“We look at it this way: we have the best beach that happens to have a great resort attached to it, not the other way around,” he said. As things continue to develop over the course of the season, accommodations figures are also pleased that JetBlue has introduced flights from New York – Cayman’s biggest source market – and Boston, Cayman’s fourth highest source of visitors. The continuation of Dallas flights on Cayman Airways through high season should also begin to show its effects as the months roll on.