There’s a dynamism in the Caribbean now, a movement. The region is at once reinventing itself and delving even deeper into the beauty of its traditions and its culture. There are new hotels, new restaurants, new destinations and new ideas. It’s a wonderful thing for travelers and for the millions of people who benefit every day from the region’s most powerful economic driver. And, more importantly, the Caribbean is putting the challenges of 2017 far into the rear-view mirror.
And with this momentous fifth annual edition of the Caribbean Travel Awards, we again celebrate the best of Caribbean travel, from the hotels and destinations that are surging to the people who are making a difference every day, with our editorial team of the world’s leading Caribbean travel experts scouring the region to select the winners.
“This is an exciting time in the Caribbean,” said Alexander Britell, editor and publisher of Caribbean Journal. “The region’s tourism offering has never been more diverse or more energetic. It’s a message to the world that the Caribbean isn’t just back — it’s better than ever.”
Congratulations to the all of the winners of the 2018 Caribbean Travel Awards!
Caribbean Destination of the Year: The Bahamas While several destinations have particularly strong growth in 2018, none has been more impressive — or more broadly impactful — than The Bahamas. That’s because while the destination has seen surging airlift growth (and a powerful increase in arrivals thanks to the full-fledged debut of the Baha Mar megaresort), this year has seen something unique for the destination: universal growth. That means growth that has been felt beyond the traditional pole of Nassau and New Providence. Indeed, islands across the Out Islands (and, crucially, Grand Bahama) are seeing strong growth — a clear sign that The Bahamas’ tourism growth is being realized across 700 islands and cays. And that’s a very powerful thing.
Caribbean Hotel of the Year: The Park Hyatt, St Kitts When it debuted at the end of 2017, the Park Hyatt St Kitts, Park Hyatt’s first-ever Caribbean hotel, was something new for the region. The design was world-class, disruptive, climate-resilient and, well, spectacularly beautiful. Now, a year later, the Park Hyatt has risen to the pantheon of the region’s greatest hotels, with a mix of thoughtful design, impressive amenities and a kind of cosmopolitan, international energy that is a welcome addition to the Caribbean’s luxury sector. Even more? The hotel has been a game-changer for the island of St Kitts, now on the map in a new way for the world’s most sophisticated travelers.
Small Hotel of the Year: Eden Roc Cap Cana, Dominican Republic There are less than 40 rooms here, even after a recent expansion, but the offering at this Cap Cana boutique is as impressive as any hotel we’ve ever encountered, large or small. From the out-of-this-world gastronomic offerings to some of the region’s most spectacular rooms, it’s a new standard for Caribbean luxury, even in a very small package.
New Hotel of the Year: O:LV Fifty Five, Puerto Rico In recent years, Puerto Rico has very quietly become a haven for luxury hotels, turning into the kind of high-end destination that transcends the more mass-market conception and strategy of its tourism officials. At the core of that push is a class of creative hospitality entrepreneurs who have the vision to see what Puerto Rico can be. The latest result? the OLV Fifty Five, a truly striking Condado-area waterfront hotel that’s the second hotel by husband-and-wife team Loisse Herger and Fernando Davila, the team behind the celebrated O:live Boutique Hotel, just a few steps away. It’s a work of art, with interior design unmatched in the region and stunning rooms that look out right onto the Condado Lagoon. It’s the new halo hotel in Condado, and another great reason to visit Puerto Rico.
All-Inclusive of the Year: Sandals Royal Barbados Sandals is always expanding and innovating, but with its latest Caribbean all-inclusive it’s taking things to another level. Sandals Royal Barbados, the brand’s second outpost in Barbados, consists entirely of suites, with over-the-top resort amenities ranging from Sandals’ first-ever on-site bowling alley to a barbershop to a sparkling rooftop pool. The 222-unit property, set in the heart of Barbados’ bustling St Lawrence Gap, is the new exemplar for all-inclusive design in the region.
New All-Inclusive of the Year: VH Atmosphere, Dominican Republic It’s tucked away in Playa Dorada, the tony enclave in Puerto Plata on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, and this transformed adults-only property is the latest success by Dominican-based firm VH Hoteles. There are 193 rooms (including 16 remarkable honeymoon suites), four restaurants, two pools and, most importantly, the layered design aesthetic of top designer Sarah Garcia. It’s a wonderful dichotomy: the Dominica Republic’s traditional all-inclusive excellence married to a design-forward ambience.
Caribbean Hotelier of the Year: Rob Barrett, Elite Island Resorts Whether you’re in Antigua or Barbados, Saint Lucia or the heart of the Grenadines, it’s hard to find a hotelier who has had a greater impact in the Caribbean than Rob Barrett, CEO of Elite Island Resorts. Over the decades, Barrett has cultivated a broad regional portfolio of resorts that, uniquely, emphasize Caribbean authenticity, that work to convey to travelers the beauty of the real Caribbean experience. Barrett is one of the legends of Caribbean tourism, and his incessant innovation is a standard for the Caribbean — and one that is only strengthening.
Caribbean Tourism Minister of the Year: Dionisio D’Aguilar, The Bahamas While The Bahamas’ impressive growth has come from myriad sources, the destination’s surge has been expertly stewarded by Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar, who took over in the role in 2017. From adding new hotels to helping to secure crucial new flights to, importantly, making a concerted effort to give The Bahamas an active regional presence in the Caribbean, both at the public and private sector levels, D’Aguilar has been at the heart of the country’s impressive growth.
Caribbean Tourism Director of the Year: William Griffith, Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. Barbados’ crucial tourism sector has seen remarkable strengthening in recent years, and that’s in large part due to the efforts of Barbados Tourism Marketing, the chief promotion arm for the destination. That strengthening has manifested itself in a number of ways, from high-profile new hotel agreements to a wave of new airlift to an impressive growth in sports and events tourism. That’s without mentioning the country’s surging improvement in the all-important U.S. market, which for a long time was an afterthought for Barbados. Behind all of these developments has been the steady hand of the forward-thinking Griffith, one of the industry’s true authorities.
Luxury Destination of the Year: Antigua There’s a new luxury player in the Caribbean. Antigua and Barbuda has rather expertly cultivated a broad collection of luxury hotels — and there are even more on the way. Whether you’re at Curtain Bluff, Carlisle Bay, South Point or the recently-upgraded Jumby Bay, there’s a luxury resort for every kind of traveler. And, more importantly, it’s a pipeline that’s growing, from this year’s new entry, Hodges Bay, to highly-anticipated resorts from brands including Waldorf Astoria and Rosewood, among others.
Innovative Destination of the Year: British Virgin Islands For the islands that were hit hard by last year’s storms, it goes without saying that this year was one of challenges. But no destination rose up more inspiringly this year than the British Virgin Islands. Even as the rebuild and recovery had only just begun, the island’s tourism officials jumped to the scene, working to patch together the destination’s offerings, bring hoteliers and stakeholders together and, when the destination was ready, remind travelers that it was already time to come back, cleverly putting together a room stock (one that included, in part, the cabins of charter yachts), managing festivals and relaunching the BVI on the regional travel map.It was an inspiring tourism performance and a teachable moment for the rest of the region about what is possible.
Cruise Destination of the Year: Jamaica The island of Jamaica has been seeing consistent growth in arrivals, but a strong portion of that growth is coming from the increasingly important cruise sector. Jamaica’s ports like Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Falmouth continue to surge, and that’s in large part due to what remains one of the most impressive collection of easily accessible attractions in the wider Caribbean. It’s also a testament to the vision of Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett, who continues to push a broad plan for growth for Jamaica.
Caribbean Spa of the Year: Manapany, St Barth It’s not the biggest spa in the Caribbean, or the most ornate, although it is one of the newest. But the Manapany, set on tucked-away Anse des Cayes in St Barth, is home to a truly world-class spa experience, one that emphasizes relaxing, locally-inspired therapies in an overwhelmingly tranquil beachfront setting. The skincare products are completely organic, the design is thoughtful and the treatment experience is unmatched. This is a back-to-basics spa that reminds of the reasons we get spa treatments to begin with: relaxation and retreat.
Caribbean Restaurant of the Year: Blue By Eric Ripert, Cayman Islands If there is one place in the Caribbean where a meal is a bucket-list experience, it is this. Eric Ripert’s lone Caribbean outpost is set at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman and features a true culinary tour de force, with a menu that mirrors Ripert’s New York signature Le Bernardin, with a Caribbean twist. It’s a truly spectacular culinary experience, and one of the great meals you will ever have, another reason why the Cayman Islands is one of the hottest culinary destinations in the whole Caribbean.
Caribbean Chef of the Year: Digby Stridiron, St Croix In recent years, the US Virgin Island of St Croix has become one of the Caribbean’s hottest culinary capitals, and that’s in large part due to the creativity and boldness of local Chef Digby Stridiron. First, it was Christiansted’s Balter, and now Stridiron has launched the exciting Braata, which has injected gastronomic energy into the streets of increasingly hip Frederiksted. Stridiron is that unique chef who doesn’t just talk about using local flavors or fusing them with global concepts – he actually does it — and takes the risks to achieve it.
Caribbean Bar of the Year: Cooper Island Rum Bar, British Virgin Islands You’re on a boat, sailing across the channels and islets of the British Virgin Islands, when it’s cocktail hour and you moor your boat at the edge of the shallows of a tiny island. It’s the last place you’d ever expect to find a world-leading rum collection. But that’s precisely the case at the recently-relaunched Cooper Island Rum Bar, a collection of rum and rhum agricole from across the Caribbean, curated by expert bartenders and served up in a quirky, effortless style. Oh, and the cocktails are worth the trip alone.
Caribbean Bartender of the Year: Edward Godard, St Barth If there’s a more creative bar in the Caribbean than St Barth’s Quarter Kitchen and Cocktail Lab, well — there isn’t. One day you might walk in to the smell of sage cooled by liquid nitrogen, another you might try five different kinds of ti’ punches. Either way, at the center of it all is the ultra talented Godard, who manages both the Caribbean’s largest rum and bourbon collections — and its most out-of-this-world cocktail menu, with bravado and ease.
Caribbean Airline of the Year: Air Antilles While it may not be as well known as its English-speaking competitors, it’s time that travelers realized the excellence of this regional airline based in Guadeloupe. There are few better ways to island hop around some of the Caribbean’s most fascinating destinations, whether you want to travel around the Eastern Caribbean, head to the Dominican Republic or explore St Martin. It’s all done in an efficient, cost-effective, well-run style, something you can’t say about every regional carrier in the Caribbean.
Caribbean Airport of the Year: VC Bird International Airport The airport experience in the Caribbean is, in fact getting better. While it may not seem that way when you’re checking in outdoors in the middle of the summer, or spending an hour on an immigration line, the reality is that some destinations are starting to get it right. And right now, the star of the show is Antigua’s VC Bird International Airport, a truly international-standard airport that’s modern, beautifully designed, comfortable and home to as good of an airport service experience as you’ll find in the region, from check-in to duty free. Here’s hoping it’s a trend that spreads.