Friday, May 3, 2013

Where to go 2013, Part 3, The Caribbean

The Caribbean

Whereas Travel Agent didn’t expect a 50-year-plus ban on travel to Cuba to be erased the second President Barack Obama took office for the first time, there seems to be an annual dose of hope that legal travel from the United States to the forbidden land could be a reality in the foreseeable future. In fact, agents can actually make a commission on travel to Cuba today and that’s thanks in large part to the continued success—and legitimacy—of the People-to-People initiative that was reinstated early on in Obama’s first term.

The People-to-People initiative requires Americans to take part in various cultural experiences in Cuba, putting them in direct contact with the people of Cuba with hopes of learning about the way of life in the country. We recently spoke to representatives of both Insight Cuba, a provider of U.S. licensed people-to-people travel to Cuba, and General Tours World Traveler about a renewed partnership, which was made official in December, that allow for legal travel from the United States to Cuba to continue.  And with its new American visitors, such Cuba hotels as the 352-room Iberostar Mojito are beginning to undergo makeovers to prepare for making that breathtaking first impression. Iberostar Hotels & Resorts recently announced it has completed extensive remodeling and refurbishment work on the Iberostar Mojito, the chain’s ninth hotel in Cuba.

The country offers pretty much everything for younger clients, older clients, couples, families and singles. Havana obviously provides the nightlife, restaurants, culture and history whereas an array of beach destinations like Varadero provide the white sand beaches for the fun-in-the-sun clients.  —Joe Pike

Before the earthquake of 2010, Haiti was poised to make a major investment in tourism and possibly compete with other, more developed Caribbean islands. But in the aftermath of the natural disaster that put leisure tourism on the backburner, the country was still receiving a heavy amount of volunteer tourists.

For 2013, however, it appears as though enough repairs have been done to the country to make leisure tourism a primary focus again. The first sign that Haiti’s sights were set again on tourism came in 2011 when United Continental Holdings announced that Continental Airlines would begin nonstop flights between, Newark (NJ) Liberty International Airport in New Jersey and Port-Au-Prince. Then in early 2012, Aimbridge Hospitality announced that it has been chosen to manage the new Best Western Premier Petion-Ville Hotel in Haiti.

In December, Digicel and Marriott International announced they had broken ground on the $45 million, 175-room Marriott Hotels & Resorts brand hotel in the Turgeau area of Port-au-Prince, with an opening expected in early 2015, making it the first four-star branded hotel in Haiti. All-inclusive giant, Occidental Hotels & Resorts, announced in early January that it had opened the five-star Royal Oasis by Occidental in the heart of Pétion-ville.

Now, Haiti is still a very delicate situation. It is emerging slowly and there are still major concerns regarding cholera as well as the ongoing process of repairing the damage by the hurricane. Book this for seasoned Caribbean travelers, couples or singles; we suggest waiting a few more years before recommending Haiti for children.  —J.P.

Travel Agent spoke to a Grenada tourism board representative recently who told us, “Everybody knows that Butch Stewart [chairman of Sandals Resorts International] doesn’t expand to an island if he doesn’t already know he will get the flights.”
Fishing boats in Haiti
Fishing boats in Haiti, a nation that is re-emerging as a tourism destination.

Well, if that’s true, Grenada should be able to make a great pitch for airlift since the destination recently became home to a new Sandals resort. And if Grenada gets airlift, especially from the Northeast, then it will fill the only void keeping it from become a Caribbean giant in 2013 and beyond. In November, Sandals announced it would be taking over LaSource, a popular luxury resort that had closed due to financial woes.
Grenada is a great destination for seasoned Caribbean travelers, especially couples. As we touched upon, getting there is a little difficult, so perhaps pitch this to younger clients who don’t mind jumping through a few hoops to get to this secluded paradise.  —J.P.

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