It’s an exciting time in the Caribbean, with plenty of news to add to the welcoming warmth of the Caribbean people, which always make meeting and incentive experiences in this region memorable.
At the recent Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association conference (CHTA), held in Barbados, Nicola Madden-Greig, CHTA president, noted that the Caribbean is an ideal region that caters to top-tier motivators who like having quality time, creating memories with family, friends and colleagues, experiencing new places and escaping the pressures of daily life to recharge and rejuvenate. And, with arrivals in premium cabin classes rising significantly and new and revitalized upscale properties opening in the region, it’s clear the Caribbean is a natural choice for groups.
Says Madden-Greig: “Coming out of the pandemic we know people are focused on adventure and being outdoors, health and wellness. They are looking for authentic experiences, and that’s something we deliver very well in the Caribbean. Also, while each island is very different, there are still very much the same warm wonderful people welcoming visitors.”
The following is just a sampling of a myriad of opportunities for meeting and incentive groups in the Caribbean region.
Barbados Minister Ian Gooding Edgehill touts his country as the culinary capital of the Caribbean with over 400 diverse restaurants, a marquee cruising port with new ships this summer from lines such as Disney, MSC and Ponant and new air service from American, JetBlue and Air Canada.
Accommodation is varied with new properties opening such as the 421-room all-inclusive Sam Lord’s Castle Barbados, A Wyndham Grand Resort, Hotel Indigo and the Pendry Barbados. Meanwhile, Ocean Hotels’ O2 Beach Club & Spa, a 100-room boutique all-inclusive, recently went through a total reimagining. Patricia Affonso-Dass, group general manager for Ocean Hotels, tells Prevue that the property focuses on wellness and authentic Bajan experiences through local collaborations. Perfect for an incentive group buyout, it touts a 5,600-sf spa, restaurants, new conference space, refurbished accommodations plus a beach restoration to provide a better beach experience.
“We’ve just actually had an incentive group of 30 staying with us. The maximum for groups would be 40-50 rooms, if not a buyout. So, even if you don’t have a buyout, we can create a custom experience such as beachside teambuilding. We can custom tailor to what the group wants for culinary and wellness experiences plus menu options that are extremely varied and focus on fresh local produce.”
“We’re expecting to attract 3.8 million visitors this year and to grow more than 5 million by 2025,” says Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett. Regarding accommodations for this increase, Bartlett notes “we have support for the increased visitors with approximately 8,000 new rooms that are under construction over the next two to five years, and this year we had a groundbreaking for a 2,000-room Hard Rock Hotel property.”
Planners should also note that this past May saw the opening of Sandals Dunn’s River in Ocho Rios, a totally reimagined 260-room all-inclusive property with new Tufa Terrace Sky Pool Butler Suites sporting glass panel-edge infinity pools spanning the length of the suite’s balcony, 12 new culinary concepts and, of course, a spa. Sandals Royal Dunn’s River will be coming later this year.
Planners should note that investment is not limited to hotels. “We have a significant expansion and modernization plan for the Montego Bay International Airport infrastructure,” says Bartlett. “Also, I can tell you there is no shortage of things to do in our destination and that Jamaica has attractions and events that run the gamut, such as iconic music festivals.” He also notes that they are very focused on the North American market, with the Montego Bay Convention Center as their centerpiece facility with nearly 140,000 sf of indoor space as well as a few hotel partners that provide convention facilities.
Joy Jibrilu, CEO for Nassau Paradise Island, tells us that with the increase in demand for travel to that destination the the abundance of nonstop flights is one of their greatest assets. From the U.S., she notes, it’s always extremely easy to arrive and depart Nassau’s Lynden Pindling International Airport. It’s the first airport outside of the U.S. to offer TSA pre-check and one of the few select airports offering U.S. customs and immigration pre-clearance along with U.S. global entry expedited clearance.
When it comes to hotel choices, Jibrilu notes that this past March they welcomed their first beachfront boutique resort to Nassau, Goldwynn Resort & Residences. Located on Cable Beach, it offers studio, 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom suites, a spa and a signature restaurant. On that note, Jibrilu says, “Nassau Paradise Island is quickly emerging as a culinary powerhouse with a variety of celebrity chefs.”
Speaking of celebrity chefs, planners heading to Atlantis Paradise Island Bahamas will find chef-driven culinary opportunities such as Fish by Jose Andres (seats 154 inside), Nobu (private dining room for 50 and 220 seats total inside with 40 patio seats) and Michael White’s Paranza, offering group seating for 125 inside and 80 outside. Another development, notes Jibrilu, is the transformation of the cruise port this year to make it a destination within itself. The $300 million redevelopment project included the repair and expansion of Prince George Wharf as well as the construction of a new terminal building, a junkanoo museum, event and entertainment spaces and an art gallery that opened this past May. Another major area that planners should note for groups is at The Point, in downtown Nassau, says Craig Martin, the complex’s managing director. Home to 600 rooms, it’s comprised of three properties: Margaritaville with a waterpark, two beaches and a marina; One Particular Harbor, a condo hotel with 150 studio, 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom suites; and the historic, 288-room British Colonial Nassau, opening later this year after a $65 million renovation and now set to offer more than 13,000 sf of indoor meeting space and outdoor venues with onsite event planners. The total meeting space of the three properties is 50,000 sf, which can be used by groups staying at any of one of the properties. Also available for events are the complex’s water park, movie theater, bowling alley and restaurants.
“We are the Nature Island, with black volcanic beaches and lush landscapes,” says Denise Charles, Minister of Tourism for Dominica. “We also offer the culture of authentic people who lived on island for 1,000 years, the Kalinago-Taino (Carib-Arawaks).”
New in Dominica is the Caribbean’s only sea kayaking trail: The Waitukubuli Sea Trail is a 47-mile adventure that takes kayakers along the western shoreline. And for those who’d rather adventure on land, Dominica offers over 300 miles of hiking trails.
Meanwhile, big news for incentive groups is the new InterContinental Dominica Cabrits Resort & Spa, an IHG Hotel, which has 151 rooms and a focus on conservation and holistic wellness. The five-star luxury resort is surrounded by the Cabrits National Park and has 8,475 sf of indoor meeting space and 4,734 sf of outdoor meeting areas, including a 2,500-sf beachfront. Says Frank Fuentes, regional director of sales for IHG Hotels & Resorts, “We are perfect for nature-based incentives and offer our groups high-end rooms and suites including private balconies and seven heated pools.” Marriott is also set to open a property in Dominica: A one-of-a-kind, 128-room hotel expected to be completed by the end of 2024.
In the United States Virgin Islands (USVI), Rosie Farrington, special assistant to the Commissioner, USVI, reminds planners there’s “no passport required, and the use of the U.S. currency makes us easy to access. We are ‘America’s Caribbean’ and we have plenty of nonstop airlift from many cities in the U.S., which is definitely a plus for planners.”
Set to open this year is the long-awaited Westin Beach Resort & Spa at Frenchman’s Reef, while its neighbor, the Morningstar Buoy Haus Beach Resort at Frenchman’s Reef, an Autograph Collection Hotel, has already opened its doors. Meanwhile, The Ritz-Carlton, St Thomas opened in late 2020 after a total reimagination.
In Antigua and Barbuda, Curtain Bluff has invested $2.2 million into extensive property renovations including a newly expanded wellness area, with the opening expected this October. Reopening in November is the Royalton Chic with 260 rooms, and in Barbuda, look out for a Robert De Niro resort to be built to the tune of $733 million.
In the Turks and Caicos, says the Hon. Josephine O. Connolly, Minister of Tourism, “90 percent of our GDP is derived from tourism, it’s our lifeblood. Turks and Caicos is an upscale destination with the third largest barrier reef in the world, and as a government, we have several initiatives to ensure the protection of our environment so our clients will be able to enjoy it.”
Planners will find many choices for their incentive groups on these islands: The Sands at Grace Bay and Shore Club Long Beach, Grace Bay Club, The Ritz-Carlton, Turks & Caicos and COMO Parrot Cay, just to name a few. The destination’s beautiful white-sand beaches and proximity to the U.S. are part of the appeal.
In Anguilla, a new airport recently opened, an essential requirement for future growth, as is the nonstop American Airlines service from Miami that started in December 2021. The island has high-end properties for incentives such as the Four Seasons Resort and Residences Anguilla, designed to engage groups with culinary experiences including cocktail classes at the Sunset Lounge. Additionally, Cap Juluca, a Belmond Hotel, is a favorite for incentive groups. Says Minister of Tourism and Infrastructure Haydn Hughes: “We don’t do all-inclusives or mega ships. One of our greatest assets is our dining; you can’t find a bad meal on the island.”
Over in St. Kitts, Ellison “Tommy” Thompson, CEO of St. Kitts Tourism Authority, says that his destination “has some of the best cuisine and cocktails within the Caribbean. Additionally, we celebrate our exceptional rum with one of the most innovative programs in the Caribbean: the Rum Master Course, where attendees can create their own blend [up to 25 attendees at a time].” Another unique experience is having an event at Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site that can accommodate 500. There are a number of great properties for incentive planners to consider, such as the luxury 124-room and -suite Park Hyatt St. Kitts Christophe Harbour, secluded in Banana Bay with a beach, three onsite dining choices and a spa.
In the Cayman Islands, Kenneth V. Bryan, Minister of Tourism and Transport, touted the Islands’ environmental policies to protect the pristine ecosystem around their island. Planners looking at this destination will see new properties coming on board including the 282-room Hotel Indigo in 2024 with a 6,700-sf ballroom. Also, The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, on the iconic Seven Mile Beach, recently announced a partnership with ESPA. Groups looking at this property will have a 20,000-sf spa that offers holistic treatments and wellness experiences. Additionally, the Grand Cayman Marriott Resort has embarked on an extensive renovation of room and suites that’s expected to be completed by December 2023.
Aruba is also seeing its hotel inventory refreshed. The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba just completed a reimagination of its 320 guest rooms, suites and corridors along with new culinary experiences. At the Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort Spa and Casino, meanwhile, groups can take merengue and salsa dance workshops on the beach during sunset.
In the Mexican Caribbean, the Andaz Mayakoba Resort Riviera Maya - A Concept by Hyatt has partnered with award-winning mescal producer Ojo de Tigre and now groups can partake in tasting experiences and mixology masterclasses. On Isla Mujeres, three new all-inclusive luxury resorts by Marriott Bonvoy are coming online starting in 2024. Almare, an adults-only property with 105 keys will be the first, followed by an all-inclusive JW Marriott with 283 rooms. And finally, an all-inclusive W with 300 rooms will swing open its doors. The latter two will have a 70,000-sf central entertainment venue connecting both resorts with event space and F&B offerings.
aruba.com; nassauparadiseisland.com discoverdominica.com; visitantiguabarbuda.com; turksandcaicostourism.com; visitcaymanislands.com; visitbarbados.org; stkittstourism.kn; visitusvi.com; ivisitanguilla.com; visitjamaica.com; caribbeanhotelandtourism.com