Caribbean Travel Advisor
Antigua, Turks and Caicos Top Hottest Luxury Destinations
While emerging Caribbean islands are great for growth, several travel experts are reporting that three particular islands are especially hot for luxury travelers not looking to go off-the-beaten path.
Antigua “Antigua is wonderful, so easy to get around the island with so many cool boutique resorts, 365 separate beaches, beautiful white sand sky blue water,” she said.
And there’s another big reason to visit: “Great cuisine,” said Sally Smith of The TravelSmiths. Indeed, Antigua and Barbuda just held its first-ever Restaurant Week to widespread acclaim.
Turks and Caicos Lee Friedman, founder and advisor of Mango Tree Travel, an affiliate of Jetset World Travel, said it’s especially ideal for families with young children.
“Turks and Caicos is [hot for families],” she said. “Families with young children cannot get enough of Turks and Caicos right now.
And Friedman also you can’t ignore that Turks has arguably the best beach in the entire Caribbean region.
“Plus, it’s hard not to love Grace Bay Beach,” said Friedman. “Beaches will forever be a popular option among families seeking the complete, all-inclusive experience, but we love sending families to smaller, more intimate resorts.”
So, where is she sending them instead?
“We’ve been sending lots of families with kids under age five to the Sands at Grace Bay, which has spacious suites at a more affordable price point than many other Turks and Caicos hotels, plus a fantastic pool and restaurant for little kids,” she said.
“We’ve also encouraged several families to split their stay and combine a resort experience with a very unique stay for two to three nights in the more untouched ‘Middle Caicos,’ at a tiny hotel called Dragon Cay Resort, which may have one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen.”
St Maarten/St. Martin “Although airfare to [Saint Maarten/St. Martin] recently has been brutal, there’s some great properties for our clients to see. The beaches are spectacular, the culinary experiences are wonderful. It is easy to get around the island with a vehicle,” said Sally Smith of The TravelSmiths. “
“St. Martin also has two sides of the island,” she continued, “one of French dissent, the other of Dutch descent, which makes for an interesting dichotomy, when it comes to your choice of restaurants and cuisines.”
Anguilla “Anguilla is awesome. In addition to some killer beaches, there’s a wildly good live music scene,” said Zach Stovall, travel expert, content strategist, photographer, videographer, and writer. “Great options for food. Elvis’ Beach Bar, Dune Preserve, and Gwen’s Reggae Grill are beach bars you stumble in and never want to leave. Cap Juluca, Four Seasons, Aurora Anguilla are all great options to stay.”
Are OTAs Still a Threat to Travel Agents?
Online Travel Agencies (OTA) haven’t posed much of a threat to the business of travel advisors as they did in the past, but should an agent put OTAs in the rearview mirror for good or should they still be watching their backs?
Travel advisors recently shared their opinion on whether or not OTAs are still a thorn in their sides.
Here’s what they had to say
Lee Friedman, founder and advisor of Mango Tree Travel, an affiliate of Jetset World Travel
OTAs will always be a threat to agents, but I think they also serve a valuable purpose for travelers looking for budget accommodations in particular.
But more and more travelers, at least in the family travel space, want someone to take decisions and details off their plates, which will always make a travel advisor a stronger choice.
Rene Fifik of On Your Way with Rene’ Travel
OTA’s can never compare to a travel agent who provides concierge services. Those who go to OTAs are not the clients a travel professional wants to work with.
We are more than a click here, a click there. What we do is make a connection with our clients. An online booking engine is not capable of doing that. The connection we make with our clients, getting to know them is what sets us apart. That connection is where invites to weddings, baby showers and even funerals come in.
It’s all about creating a connection and a relationship with your clients. Have I thought of closing up shop and going to work for one of them? I sure have. It would be so much easier for me to just login somewhere everyday and be an order taker. It would be nice to have a guaranteed income for just showing up.
Andrey Zakharenko, founder of My World to Travel
Costco Travel is the only OTA that is very much relevant. They openly admit to selling travel at a loss and using coupons as rewards to entice their member’s to book with them.
Just in the last couple of months, a Four Seasons client booked with Costco and a Hawaii boys golf trip decided to take the Costco deal. The price was impossible to beat.
Other OTA’s are still there, and they have their clients, but with most four- and five-star hotels guaranteeing the best price and trying to drive direct bookings, they are not a big threat for me.
OTA’s are still a volume play and not a high touch service. Be it OTA or AI, a human experience can’t be replicated, with all its good and bad.”
Nikki Miller, founder of Travel With Nikki
I don’t consider OTAs a threat to travel advisors. If we flip our mindset that our travelers don’t always want the lowest cost, but the best value there is no way an OTA can beat me on that.
An OTA won’t know that you hate window seats, an OTA won’t know that you like to be closest to the elevator at your hotel, and an OTA won’t know that your kids don’t like any vegetables and only like chicken nuggets and won’t give out a list of restaurants that will keep your kids happy.
I can understand and sympathize with advisors who have different, non-service structured, businesses would be nervous about OTAs. If your travel business operates on a quantity model, then it can be very hard to beat OTAs on pricing.
No matter how many great qualified advisors are working for OTAs if someone is only focused on price, it doesn’t matter the quality of the advisor, they will gravitate toward the option that saves them the most money.
Emily Bertsch of VIP Vacations, Inc.
I still don’t believe that OTA’s are a threat. During the pandemic, clients learned that they needed travel agents to help. We can offer service, opinions, and facts, while OTA’s only offer what is listed on their website.
I still have some clients try to price match my rates with OTA’s, but even just a few weeks ago, I had a client send me a price that I couldn’t beat and she said she still wanted to book with me. That, in itself, says it all.
From Jamaica to Cancun, All-Inclusive Resorts Are Hotter Than Ever
For decades, all-inclusive resorts were a bit of a polarizing proposition: some travelers adored the comfort and convenience, preferring to spend their vacations in all-inclusive sanctuary at the resort. Others felt like they wanted to explore the destination more, to get out of the hotel and see the island.
Of course, travelers have changed — and so have all-inclusive resorts; the last two years have shifted everyone’s priorities, and travelers of all vacation preferences are finding all-inclusives more more appealing than ever.
“With all the stresses of life, news, having a stress-free vacation has never been more important and all-inclusive vacation provides a little escape from the daily stresses of life,” said Andrey Zakharenko, founder of My World to Travel / Always Travel.
Following the lifting of nearly all travel restrictions that had been significant obstacles in 2021, good hotel performances were recorded in 2022, globally, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization.
“For a few of my clients, all-inclusive has been the only way to go for many years,” said Zakharenko. “After the pandemic, more are giving it a try. They select it because it’s easy, less stress for them. They pay once and then everyone gets to enjoy their vacation. No surprises at the end, no need to itemize the bill and figure out who owes what.”
“All- inclusive resorts are a top request for families, especially if you are on a budget,” said Jennifer Carr, an advisor with The Tropical Travelers. “They can pay one price and have all of their meals, beverages and entertainment included all up front. The amenities that are requested by families are a great pool area, waterparks, variety of restaurants, kids’ clubs and nightly entertainment.”
So, what Caribbean destination is thriving the most in the all-inclusive department?
“Jamaica remains the go-to destination for an all-inclusive resort, and we’ve seen a lot of demand among families for the Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall,” said Lee Friedman, founder and advisor of Mango Tree Travel, an affiliate of Jetset World Travel.
Friedman also noted that Mexico shouldn’t be ignored as a top all-inclusive spot as well.
“The Finest Playa Mujeres in Mexico has an enormous following among families seeking an affordable all-inclusive stay,” said Friedman, “booking out months and months in advance, because it has family rooms that gives parents separation from their kids for a good night sleep.”
Carr also has her favorites in Mexico.
“Some hot all-inclusive resorts for families right now are the Hyatt Ziva Cap Cana and Dreams Macao Beach, both in the Dominican Republic, the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya and Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun in Mexico,” she said.
And the numbers prove that travelers aren’t just flooding to all-inclusive resorts, but are looking at all accommodations.
Global occupancy rates in 2022 increased from 43 percent in January to 57 percent in December, with rates topping 65 percent from June to October, according to STR. In fact, the Caribbean hotel sector demonstrated full recovery through positive results in the hotel indicators, according to the CTO.
“The ease of the all-inclusive will always be appealing to family travelers,” said Friedman. “Above all else, families want spacious rooms, childcare options, and lots of good food choices for kids.”
Travel Agents: Small-Ship Cruises on the Rise in the Caribbean
The Caribbean Tourism Organization recently reported that the large cruise companies are starting to recover a lot of lost revenue from the last two years.
And now several travel advisors are reporting that the smaller cruise lines and expedition ships are also becoming heavily requested this year.
“Small cruise ships are back, baby,” proclaimed Pattie Kisilewich, travel, wedding and event planner for Dreamaker Vacations. “The pause, a.k.a. COVID, has changed how people like to travel and especially cruise.”
“More emphasis is being placed on smaller group and solo travel,” said Kisilewich. “My clients are looking for the more authentic and immersive experiences and large ships do not offer that. Look, a port is a port is a port, but the ship life is what can make or break that trip.”
While Danielle Stephens, an advisor with Unique Romance and Adventure Travel, said Windstar Cruises, Oceania Cruises and Ponant are all impressive recommendations, she admitted SeaDream takes the cake as the current “fan favorite” among small cruises.
“SeaDream is a fan favorite,” said Stephens. “So far, they are popular for clients 60 and over. Boat charters are more popular right now with families and clients in the 30-50s.
“People are going on them for their unique itineraries and for a more yacht-like experience,” she continued.
Stephens said she especially loves that SeaDream offers a variety of itineraries in the Caribbean, including visits to popular destinations and “hidden gems.”
“You can explore picturesque islands, pristine beaches, and vibrant local cultures,” she said.
The itineraries often include ports that larger ships cannot access, allowing for a more authentic and less crowded experience, said Stephens.
SeaDream yachts are equipped with a marina platform, allowing clients to engage in a range of water sports and activities right from the ship.
Daniela Harrison, an advisor with Avenues of the World Travel, also shared her favorite small cruise lines to recommend to clients.
“My top small ship cruise lines for Caribbean are SeaDream, Seabourn [Cruise Line], Windstar, Silversea Cruises, Regent [Seven Seas Cruises],” she said. “Mid-size ships are Virgin [Voyages], Celebrity [Cruises] and Oceania.”
Aside from the amenities that smaller ships offer, Lena Brown of Largay Travel, said they also have a major advantage over the mega cruise ships.
“You can book big ships that entertain all age groups and small ships that get into unique ports,” Lena Brown of Largay Travel. “Yacht style cruising is a huge request especially for those that don’t want to be with lots of people.”
“Many travelers are looking for that off-the-beaten path experience,” said Brown. “Those clients that love nature and have been on many cruises are looking for more ways to explore. Galapagos cruises and seeing the whales in Mexico have been a big request.”
Kisilewich did admit smaller ships, by nature, offer far less amenities than the larger cruise line.
“Small ships offer less amenities, that is true – four dining options instead of 17, three bars instead of seven, but they also offer more intimate experiences and top-notch service,” she said.
In fact, Kisilewich said the larger ships are starting to get smaller themselves in a way.
“While cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, Norwegian [Cruise Line] and Carnival [Cruises] are still planning to bring out new, large ships – the concept of large ships has changed,” said Kisilewich.
“Cruise lines are realizing passengers want more personal space on these large ships,” she continued, “so while the size is still up there, capacity is reduced and rooms are redesigned to use space more efficiently.”
Caribbean Cruises Are Back in a Big Way
The Caribbean tourism industry has rebounded spectacularly from the pandemic – and so, too has the cruise sector. Plainly, Caribbean cruises are back in a big way, according to travel agents.
More cruise ships, some larger, are sailing, operating at full capacity, and making port calls in the Caribbean again, according to the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association.
“Cruising is definitely back,” said Kacie Walls, an agent with Traevlista Travels. “I never really booked cruises up until this year, but it is back and everyone is going.”
After two successive years in decline, the cruise business in the Caribbean rebounded. In 2022, the total number of cruise visitors in the region reached 19.2 million, which was five times more than those in 2021 and represented 63.3 percent of the record number of cruise visits (30.4 million) set in 2019, according to the CHTA.
“You can book big ships that entertain all age groups and small ships that get into unique ports,” said Brown. “Yacht style cruising is a huge request especially for those that don’t want to be with lots of people.”
Each month’s total cruise visits in 2022 were more than the corresponding month’s in 2021 underscoring the sector’s robust recovery. These cruise visits, with monthly totals ranging from 1.1 million to 3.3 million, made up a progressively larger percentage of the 2019 monthly number, according to CHTA.
The recovered proportions moved from 23 percent in January up to 86 percent in December.
As a consequence, cruise visits performed best in both absolute and relative terms in the fourth quarter. With 7.1 million cruise visits, the three-month period saw an estimated decline of -16 percent compared to the same period in 2019. In the other quarters, there were fewer cruise visitors: 4.3 million, 3.8 million, and 4.0 million, correspondingly.
In comparison to 2019, the relative disparities observed were more significant, at -59.5 percent, -37.5 percent and -23.2 percent, respectively.
Cruise visits to the Dominican Republic were 20.1 percent more than in 2019 and totaled 1.3 million, the third largest number among the destination. The Bahamas, the most visited individual destination by cruisers, received 5.4 million cruise visits which were 99.3 percent of their 2019 number. This was the best performance among the 23 destinations still lagging in cruise visits, according to the CHTA.
Four other destinations, Bermuda, Dominica, Aruba, and the US Virgin Islands, experienced recovery rates of between 70 percent and 75 percent, according to the CHTA.
In 2022, all regions enjoyed significant increases in cruise activity following the pandemic-driven disruptions over the previous two years. The Northern Caribbean emerged as the most visited region in 2022, having recorded an estimated 6.5 million cruise visits (six times more than in 2021) and achieved 91.9 percent of the pre-pandemic arrivals.
“Families that have never cruised before are cruising now,” said Walls. “I have had a 40th wedding anniversary and spring break group on NCL, and Carnival is very popular for me due to the Norfolk and Baltimore port being so close.”
Cruise visits to other regions were either four or five times more than in 2021. However, while the Eastern and Western Caribbean recovered 55 percent of their 2019 figures, the Southern Caribbean could only muster 51.3 percent, according to the CHTA.
All destinations registered increases in cruise visits against 2021.
However, the exception of the Dominican Republic, the volume of cruise visits to all other reporting destinations was still below 2019 figures.
“Cruises are hot and filling up,” said Lena Brown, an advisor with Largay Travel. “What better way to spend time with family, seeing different destinations and enjoying dinner each night together? With so many styles of cruising these days, I find I can find a good fit for all cruise clients.”
The Top Emerging Caribbean Islands, According to Travel Agents
From the Bahamas to Jamaica, there are a lot of well-known and well-booked Caribbean destinations.
But what about the ones that still have massive growth potential?
Several Caribbean specialists recently shared the islands that, while they may not be totally unknown, are seeing a robust increase in inquiries.
“I am getting a lot more southern Caribbean bookings in Antigua, St. Lucia and Grenada,” said Kacie Walls of Traevlista Travels. “Mostly, because I have been there and am posting about the islands. My latests clients that just traveled to Grenada have never heard of it until I recommend it.”
And the results?
“They texted me from the resort,” she said, “because they loved the island so much that they wanted to rebook while still there.”
Bonaire has always been known primarily as a diver’s paradise, but in recent years that has changed considerably.
“For years, Bonaire has been considered a destination mainly just for divers,” said Caroline Fridley, the founder and CEO of Five Star Nomad Travel. “But lately, more people are discovering the charms the island can offer above the reef as well. There’s a large and spectacular national park, a donkey sanctuary, thousands of flamingos, a small but colorful downtown.”
And it’s still offers all the joys for the client who simply wants to relax (including the upcoming Bonaire Rum Week in June).
“There are more than 20 beaches,” said Fridley. “There’s one here for any taste, whether you are looking for a family-friendly beach club where you can watch hundreds of kite surfers, a smaller cove where you may be the only person in sight as you picnic in the shade of a waterfront cave, a resort beach with full service and plenty of comfy loungers and hammocks – even an uninhabited island easily reachable by a regularly scheduled water taxi.”
But the watersports shouldn’t be ignored entirely, she said.
“And of course, the snorkeling is top-tier,” said Fridley. “I recommend staying at the Harbour Village Beach Club, the most upscale resort on the island, which is set on a gorgeous stretch of sand and features a gourmet restaurant where you can even dine over the ocean. Pro-tip: renting a car is a must here to really explore and enjoy the island.”
“Roatan, Honduras is one of my favorite emerging Caribbean destination to recommend to family travelers,” said Lee Friedman, founder and advisor of Mango Tree Travel, an affiliate of Jetset World Travel. “While Roatan has been known as a hot spot for scuba divers and cruise ship day-trippers, it’s gaining popularity among other travelers seeking an off-the-beaten path and less developed Caribbean experience, including families.”
So, what are the other incentives for visiting this destination?
“It’s affordable, easy to navigate, and families love the stunning and calm West Bay Beach – not to mention all the different animal encounters and excursions available on the island,” said Friedman. “We love sending families to the small, boutique hotel XBalanque Resort, which has spacious suites and a top location between the village of West End and West Bay Beach.” This year, the island is welcoming its first-ever international branded resort: the new Kimpton Grand Roatan.
“We’ve been sending lots of families to Curacao, one of the lesser known ABC islands for U.S. family travelers,” said Friedman, founder and advisor of Mango Tree Travel, an affiliate of Jetset World Travel. “Aruba has long been on the radar of American travelers, with neighboring Curacao is getting more European tourists.”
And convenience has been Curacao’s biggest selling point, said Friedman.
“But with direct flights from New York and lots of amazing family-friendly properties, American families are intrigued by Curacao, especially those who like a more European and less-touristy experience.
“Plus, with a huge range of accommodation options – from the ultra luxe Boase Luxury Resort to small boutique hotels with family suites like Scuba Lodge and Villa Tokara — there’s a hotel for every taste and budget,” Friedman said. “Our families love the multi-bedroom, beachfront suites at Avila Beach Hotel, which has some of the island’s best beach snorkeling right off its shores.”
Not to be confused with the Dominican Republic, Dominica is for the savvy Caribbean traveler who doesn’t need a beach to have a good time. It has no beaches.
“It would be for the traveler who has been and done the beach destinations,” said Susan Peavey of Susan Peavey Travel, Inc. “They are looking to relax with the outside more eco-friendly, back to nature. A place to totally shut down and enjoy the surroundings.”
Aurelio Giordano of Ace World Travel said Dominica is the ideal for for travelers looking to avoid massive groups of tourists.
“It’s what the Caribbean was before it became the Caribbean of mega-resorts and high traffic tourism,” he said. “A great combination of gorgeous beaches, plush landscape and ecotourism you’ll find in places like Costa Rica and Saint Lucia, with French and English influences from its past occupation, encompassed with the chill island vibe we all know and love of the Caribbean.”
Travel Advisors Say Flight Prices Are Impacting Caribbean Vacation Bookings
By Joe Pike, Special Contributor to CTA
In short, the biggest challenge travel advisors are dealing with in 2023 is the ongoing negative effect the pandemic has had on booking travel — particularly the cost of flights.
Advisors are reporting that the domino effect of the last three years has created a list of challenges that go beyond the initial difficulties of navigating health protocols.
Availability and Pricing
“Availability has been the largest obstacle,” said Sally Jane Smith , co-owner of The TravelSmiths. “Pricing has increased tremendously since pre-pandemic levels. Airfare availability has been pretty brutal throughout the course of the last couple months. It’s mostly because of everyone traveling.”
Lee Friedman, founder and advisor of Mango Tree Travel, an affiliate of Jetset World Travel, agreed.
“High flight prices and limited routes make it challenging to find the right island for each travelers’ budget and flight preferences,” said Friedman. “Travelers can be quite discouraged by Caribbean flight prices upwards of $1,000 per ticket, especially when they envision a quick, easy getaway to the beach.”
So, what’s the solution?
“First, when planning Caribbean travel, start with flights, not hotels,” said Friedman. “We encourage travelers to consider connecting flights rather than direct-only flights to get to the right Caribbean destination, and destinations with good flights they might not have considered before.
“Once you’ve found an affordable flight path, think outside the box when it comes to hotels,” she continued. “Travelers can have amazing Caribbean experiences at some smaller, family-owned and boutique properties that aren’t priced as high as the more well-known resorts.”
Supply and Demand
“There is a lot of demand for travel and not enough hours in the day to handle it all, and not that many people to hire to help you manage it,” said Andrey Zakharenko, founder of My World to Travel / Always Travel and co-founder and owner of Russian Connections. “The fear that you are not doing a good job is lurking in the back of your mind. There are less agents and more people looking to use agents.”
Michelle Gordon of Jetset World Travel has a solution.
“We saw a high demand for international travel in 2022 and it has not slowed down,” she said. “I am realistic with clients and often suggest pivoting to an alternative destination to help with value and availability or suggesting alternating travel dates. Many hotels have extended their seasonality to accommodate this demand as well.”
“Balancing work and life is becoming a lot harder,” said Zakharenko. “We got into travel to enjoy life and travel. Now, it seems we work all the time and work when we travel and a true vacation/getaway is not something that most of us do.”
While there’s no one solution to anyone’s work/life balance, Lena Brown of Largay Travel said it does serve as another reminder of the importance of charging fees.
“I look at how many hours I will be spending with proposals and assisting [clients] during their travel, and I charge accordingly,” said Brown. “My clients know how much time I invest in making their vacations, fabulous memories for a lifetime. They are willing to pay for the value I bring and the peace of mind knowing I am there with them every step of the way.”
Caribbean Travel Booking Windows Are Shrinking
By Joe Pike, Special Contributor to Caribbean Travel Advisor
Top-notch travel advisors are reporting a substantial shrinkage in booking windows since COVID entered the equation and are not expecting the trend to end soon.
And advisors say that’s nowhere more true than in the Caribbean.
Lena Brown of Largay Travel said COVID has seriously shortened the time in which clients plan and subsequently book Caribbean vacations simply because the pandemic showed travelers’ “how important it is to just get out and go.”
“In the past, before COVID, I found clients booked trips a year or two in advance,” said Brown. “Now, I get inquiries to travel in just a few months. They are talking with family and friends over dinner one night and the next day they are calling me to book a family cruise or vacation.”
Andrey Zakharenko, founder of My World to Travel / Always Travel and co-founder and owner of Russian Connections, reported the same.
“Clients are a lot more spontaneous, last-minute in 2023,” said Zakharenko. “Weekend getaways are now booked a week or two before. Longer, more complicated trips, are booked three to six months [in advance].”
What challenges does this pose for advisors, including those who focus on the Caribbean?
“This creates a few issues for the agent,” said Zakharenko. “A client with a last-minute getaway skips to the front of the line due to the time urgency and delays the response to clients planning a trip further in the future. With last-minute requests, availability becomes an issue and clients can’t always get what they want, for the price they want.”
One example Zakharenko shared is when a client called him on a Sunday for a getaway the following weekend. Due to the last-minute nature of the request, the client was nervous about availability and wanted a response right away.
“I responded late Sunday and, by that point, they put a room on hold just to be safe and then Monday, I had to contact the hotel, change the room and transfer it to me,” said Zakharenko. “All of this could have been avoided with more time to plan.”
Brown said very recently she needed two cabins for a Caribbean cruise leaving in eight weeks, adding that she “miraculously” got the last two cabins on the ship. Also, she said many hotels and tours are sold out with such a short time before travel.
And that’s not all.
“Another struggle is trying to find a [Destination Management Company] that will take last-minute reservations,” said Brown. “They too have challenges finding space and prefer to assist with reservations at least six months from departure.
“I also find airfare is extremely expensive when you don’t book far in advance,” she added. “Clients are shocked at the cost of the flights. Explaining the planes are full and the options are slim is exhausting.”
And despite the limited time an agent has to plan the perfect, customized trip, clients are still expecting them to pull it off, said Michelle Gordon of Jetset World Travel.
“I have clients reaching out to me for travel in the next month or two, which back in 2019 would feel incredibly rushed,” said Gordon. “Clients still want everything customized, but just on a shorter planning timeline.”
Nikki Miller, founder of Travel With Nikki, said booking windows have simply been erratic. She said bookings have been either close, about six to eight weeks in advance, or far out, at least 12 months prior to the vacation.
“This January brought in the most close in requests that I’ve had for February and March travel that I’ve ever seen,” said Miller. “Fifty-six percent of bookings made in the first quarter of the year traveled in the first quarter of the year. This seems to have leveled out some beginning in Q2 (quarter two) as my travelers are focusing more on trips that are 12-plus weeks out.”
Hyatt’s New All-Inclusive Platform for Travel Advisors
By Dana Niland
Hyatt’s inclusive Collection, the largest pool of luxury all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean, is launching Confidant Collective, a new online platform featuring resources exclusively designed to cultivate opportunities for travel advisors.
Complete with enhanced sales and marketing tools and an extensive education program highlighting key differentiators and unique selling points of each of the Inclusive Collection’s nine luxury all-inclusive brands located throughout Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America in particular.
“Our dedication to travel advisors remains unwavering, and the launch of Confidant Collective is a testament to our commitment and care for this community,” said Kevin Wojciechowski, Senior Vice President of Sales and Distribution, Inclusive Collection, Hyatt. “The Confidant Collective website and the suite of new tools available were created with the intention of fueling growth and supporting the continued success of our valued travel advisor community.”
The Confidant Collective website features a full suite of best-in-class tools intended to serve as a resource to empower travel advisors to become experts on the Inclusive Collection portfolio, with diverse content including new and informative video capabilities and opportunities to feature multiple promotional, sales, incentives and offers.
Travel advisors will also have access to the latest news and information on the portfolio.
Also featured prominently on the new website is Confidant Learning, an interactive online educational platform that encompasses all brands in the Inclusive Collection portfolio and is designed to give advisors an expert advantage, with additional supplemental courses and annual recertification to enhance travel advisor knowledge and maintain their Confidant Collective advisor status.
With greater functionality and an updated, more agile dashboard available via mobile application, travel advisors will be able to remain connected at all times.
As part of the Confidant Collective, the Inclusive Collection will soon invite advisors to participate in a revamped rewards program — Confidant Rewards — with new concepts and upgrades as well as the opportunity to register and redeem bookings at Zoëtry Wellness & Spa Resorts, Secrets Resorts & Spas, Breathless Resorts & Spas, Dreams Resorts & Spas and Sunscape Resorts & Spas.
The rewards program is expected to go live in the weeks ahead.
The tiered rewards program will introduce personalization and varied offerings through VIP travel advisor benefits, expanded cash options and a carefully curated collection of new redemption items for selection by travel advisors, including the option to redeem points for personal charitable contributions.
Designed to support accumulating awards rapidly, travel advisors can earn points faster through the new program, including the ability to earn more points the more they book.
In 2022, Hyatt’s Inclusive Collection announced the openings of several resorts in the Americas including Secrets Impression Moxché, and entry into new destinations such as St. Lucia with Zoëtry Marigot Bay St. Lucia and Colombia with Dreams Karibana Cartagena Golf & Spa Resort, with the planned openings of Secrets Impression Isla Mujeres, Secrets St. Lucia Resort & Spa and Secrets Tulum Resort & Beach Club in 2023.
Has the Pandemic Impacted Travel Advisors’ Fees?
By Joe Pike, Special Contributor to Caribbean Travel Advisor
The pandemic forced a lot of travel advisors to restructure their business models or strategies, but is charging or not charging fees one those practices that had to be amended?
Many travel advisors are saying fees are not only more important now than ever before, they are also more accepted by the clients who have to pay them.
“Post-pandemic clients are more accepting of fees,” said Andrey Zakharenko, founder of My World to Travel / Always Travel and co-founder and owner of Russian Connections. “A few of my clients remind me to charge them fees and volunteer to pay fees, something not common before.”
Michelle Gordon of Jetset World Travel has seen similar reactions from clients.
“’Yes’ to fees,” proclaimed Gordon. “With the overload of information online, review websites that may or may not be accurate combined with everything we’ve been through with the pandemic I feel there has been less pushback with fees vs pre-pandemic times.”
For that reason, now is the time for agents who haven’t charged fees to start doing so.
“Of course the workload for the agent has increased,” said Zakharenko. “Most suppliers are still short-staffed and clients are needing extra attention when planning the most basic trips.”
“Clients are very inclined to pay fees to work with advisors now,” said Nikki Miller, owner of Travel With Nikki. “During the pandemic, many of them learned the hard way that large OTN will just shut the phones off when call levels get too large, or you’ll be in a 24-plus hour callback cue for the airlines. They are more than willing to pay a travel advisor to get out of having to go through all of that frustration.”
Sally Smith, co-owner of The TravelSmiths, said keeping track of all the different COVID protocols was enough reason for a client to pay an agent a fee.
“We are also their [for our clients] post-COVID going to new destinations, showing the protocols, letting them know exactly what was happening in destination,” she said. “Our time, our investment in our business is incredibly important as it pertains to our clients ultimate happiness.”
But Smith also said the pandemic wasn’t needed to justify an agent’s fee structure.
“Attorneys, accountants, consultants, etc. charge fees,” said Smith. “You cannot get a plumber to even show up to your home for less than $75 and then the work begins. After 37 years in the industry, we have a wealth of knowledge to share and to assist our clients in safeguarding their most valued possession, which is their free time.”
Terry Van Meter of Legacy Travel said charging fees has always been an advisor’s best defense against those looking for free information before using it to book online.
“Charging professional fees before doing any research has been a game-changer for our travel agency,” said Terry Van Meter of Legacy Travel. “Take my last call for instance. He wanted to pick my brain about my favorite resorts in Fiji.
“After I gave him my professional fee speech, he confided that he was not serious about the trip yet,” she continued. “Charging fees for our services allows us to spend time on those who are serious and appreciate our hard work.”
But Kacie Walls of Traevlista Travels the decision to charge or not charge fees is also determined by the price volume of the trips advisors are booking.
“I do not charge fees,” said Walls. “I have never charged fees. Ninety-five percent of my clients are booking low budget trips. I am not a luxury booking agent. The area I come from is just not that of high end trips. I don’t feel as if I need to charge a fee, most all of my clients book with me and return to me with friends and family.
“I know that most of them would book online instead of with me if I charged a fee,” she continued. Unfortunately, that is just how the area is that I am in.”
Lindsay Kowalski, founder and advisor of LK Travel, an affiliate of Jetset World Travel, said specialists who charge fees are the ones who’ve earned the title, “advisor” over “agent.”
“I truly believe that charging a fee allows me to provide personalized and unbiased advice that is tailored to the specific needs and preferences of my clients,” said
Kowalski. “This is the true distinction between a travel agent versus a travel advisor. My role as an advisor is not transactional, because I am not solely focused on making a sale or booking a trip.”
The Tech Tools Travel Advisors Are Using Right Now
By Joe Pike, Special Contributor to CJI
A travel adivsor’s time has arguably never been as valuable as it has been since the pandemic.
First, the pandemic halted travel and now it’s done the opposite: create a demand to vacation so high there’s not enough time in the day for an agent to accommodate all client requests.
With that in mind, some top notch travel agents recently shared some of their favorite forms of technology that has helped shaved off hours of work.
Here’s what they had to say:
Michelle Gordon of Jetset World Travel
[I recommend] AXUS and it’s a bonus if your supplier partner uses it too and you can build out the itinerary together. Other favorites include ITA Matrix for researching flights, SION for accounting/chasing commission, TravelJoy for organizing client information, Sherpa for all travel requirements for a trip.
Lindsay Kowalski, founder and advisor of LK Travel, an affiliate of Jetset World Travel
I use TravelJoy to store all of my client information and keep my trips organized, it helps me keep track of birthdays and passport expiration dates also.
Travefy (an itinerary builder) allows me to create detailed proposals with my own branding, and then final itineraries that updates in real time for clients on their app.
Gmail and My Drive allow me to organize my files but also connect with other advisors at my Host Agency through our shared group and drive.
Nikki Miller, founder of Travel With Nikki
I’m loving TravelJoy. It is making the back end side of things so simple. The automations available are great! I feel so organized in my trips now and the stress of who is traveling when, and what final payments are coming up is almost non-existent now.
I’ve been loving working with VidYard. I’ll use it to do screen captures to explain proposals to travelers, answer their questions on resort/ship layouts, and walk them through tech required for their trip.
This is really been beneficial when explaining online check in to a guest, or showing them how to work within their My Disney Experience account. It is also great in sharing workflows with fellow advisors and most importantly, my Virtual Assistant. I don’t have to spend the time typing out detailed instructions. I just record my screen and narrate what I need done, or how I need something completed.
I use TextBlaze often as well. There are so many sentences/phrases that I use frequently with traveler communication. I’m able to put in a simple ”/” and the keyword I set and it will autofill what I’m saying. So easy when sharing my calendar link, explaining how I work, and directing travelers to my website to learn more.
Lee Friedman, founder and advisor of Mango Tree Travel, an affiliate of Jetset World Travel
My favorite tool for Caribbean travel is FlightConnections.com. The website allows you to select your departure airport and immediately see all possible direct flights, includes which airlines fly and which days of the week.
This is incredibly helpful for proposing the right Caribbean island to travelers who want direct flights, especially given that some flights only run on certain days of the week, and for finding good connections through airports other than Miami.
Lena Brown of Largay Travel
I use AXUS to build my clients trips. It keeps their vacations organized and easily accessed on their phones. I love that I am notified when they are to check into their flights or when their flight is leaving. It is a great tool for me to keep up will all my clients vacations.
My clients love it because they have all their confirmations, addresses and phone number to their destinations all in one place. I think it is a great bragging rights tool to share with their friends.
They can scroll through and show them where they are going and what they are going to experience. I find it is a good referral tool for me getting new clients. They see what I can do for their friends and want me to plan their next vacation.
Karisma Hotels Is Launching a Travel Agent Advisory Board
Karisma Hotels and Resorts is launching a new travel agent advisory board, Caribbean Travel Advisor has learned.
It’s called the Compass Committee, and it will “receive first-hand looks at new product development and innovation across the portfolio and participate in quarterly online meetings and annual on-site events,” with a group of agents, executives and agency owners.
The company’s Gourmet Inclusive Vacation Consultants and Rewards agents can apply for membership on the committee.
In order to be eligible, agents and owners must be “enrolled and active” in Karisma’s Gourmet Inclusive travel agent programs.
Entries close on May 30, with selections announced on June 15.
“At Karisma Hotels and Resorts, we have an agent-first commitment,” said Marilyn Cairo, Vice President of Global Sales at Premier Worldwide Marketing. We pride ourselves on collaboration and building a community where everyone is empowered to succeed. We always want to be better partners, and this board will help ensure that. It’s one of the many ways we plan to give back this month and beyond.”
The launch is part of Karisma’s celebration of Travel Agent Appreciation Month, with programming including in-person seminars throughout May, new incentives (double points for bookings made for Nickelodeon and Margaritaville resorts between now and July 31) and virtual scavenger hunts.
For more, visit the Compass Committee.
Celebrity Cruises Launches Travel Advisor Appreciation Month
By the Caribbean Travel Advisor Staff
Celebrity Cruises has kicked off a month-long travel advisor appreciation program, Caribbean Travel Advisor has learned.
The company is marking National Travel and Tourism Week (from May 7-13) with a new Travel Advisor Appreciation Month.
Celebrity is launching several new incentives throughout the month: that includes double reward points on boxing’s made between May 2013 on any Celebrity sailing through April 30, 2025; the chance to win one of five $1,000 gift cards by filling out a survey; and a $500 gift card for travel advisor who share their favorite “Celebrity Cruises moment” and tag their sales manager and the company’s new travel advisor Facebook page.
It’s part of the company’s renewed push to work with travel advisors, including its Celebrity Learning Program and broad marketing assistance for advisors.
For more, visit The Celebrity Commitment.