Mixed reviews for summer tourism

There seems to be mixed reviews from tourist properties with regard to summer business this year.

Although some of the hotels and condos seem to be up on last year’s figures for low season, others, especially condos, are not doing so well.

At the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort in general occupancy is looking to be 10 per cent up on what it was last year for its 305 rooms, spanning May through September.

May and June have already been very positive months, with May at 72 per cent occupancy and June at 69 per cent.

For July the hotel is forecasting occupancy of 63 per cent, for August it is looking to be 59 per cent and for September they are currently forecasting 40 per cent, for what is traditionally a very quiet month

Director of Sales and Marketing Carolina Voulliéme noted that although summer tends to have a very short booking cycle, if everything continues the way they project it will go, it should be a good low season for the property.

Factors that may be helping business include a lack of storm activity so far in the Caribbean region this year and the hotel’s hurricane policy, in line with all Marriott hotels in the Caribbean, said Ms Voulliéme.

In fact, more hotels, condos and villas are embracing hurricane policies. A group hurricane guarantee programme for the Cayman Islands has at least 18 properties on board, brought about by the initial encouragement of The Reef Resort’s Tom McCallum.

At Villas of the Galleon and some other condominium complexes, summer is not going so well.

Villas of the Galleon General Manager Lisa Ebanks explained that with a large daily rental pool of 55 units, low season is very slow, on the back of a disappointing high season.

May and June have shown occupancy rates of about 20 per cent, while July is looking to be about 30 per cent, when, Ms Ebanks said, she would have hoped for low season to hit at least 50 per cent. August is looking to be about 20 per cent as it currently stands, but there is time for bookings to improve a little.

With the property only just reopened in July 2006, Ms Ebanks put the 06/07 slow high season down to the fact that they had been closed for two years following Ivan and were trying to build the business back up.

However, she feels that the US passport requirement and expense of airfare is also hurting business.

Some of the owners are now considering putting their units into long term rentals, because it’s a safer option, she said.

Another couple of condo managers, who did not wish to be named, said that the summer months have been extremely slow for them, and that last year was the same.

But at Lacovia Condominiums, which has 35 units in the daily rental pool, the occupancy rates for summer are up on last year.

June was at about 55 per cent, up five per cent on last year. July is at 60 per cent occupancy, up from 56 per cent last year. Then, for the slowest time of low season, the levels drop off until November, said General Manager Rory Mohammed.

He is pleased rates are up on last year and they are hoping this trend will continue into high season. Mr. Mohammed also said he hopes there will be a full six months of high season to come, rather than the three (February, March and April) some condo complexes experienced for the last high season.

Direct airlift between Grand Cayman and New York was cited as a reason for last high season’s poor performance within short term rentals in the condo sector. But Cayman Airways has now instigated a new three times weekly direct service to JFK Airport. Hotel and condo managers noted that it was too early to measure any positive benefits of the new service, but they were all encouraged by its introduction.

Director of Sales with Sunshine Suites Nadia Hardy said that while they have had the best May and June on record at the 132-room property (May’s occupancy was 74 per cent, up 16 per cent on last year) they have had to be a lot more proactive in terms of promotions and specials. They have also had to drop to more competitive rates for July, August and September in order to try and increase bookings. Bookings for August are looking slow, although they also tend to be last minute in summer.

The fact that there have been no hurricanes so far this season has been a help, Ms Hardy added.

General Manager of Comfort Suites Tom Mason said that he is cautiously optimistic with regard to summer business this year.

July is very strong, with average occupancy for the month for the 108-room property looking to be 70 per cent, and this week is running at 90 per cent.

June was slower than anticipated, at about 65 per cent.

Mr. Mason believes that this summer will be comparable to last, or perhaps a little better at Comfort Suites, but the GM noted that competition from other Caribbean destinations is fierce.

At the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman things are looking quite sunny for the 365-room resort. June was one of the busiest months for groups since the hotel opened in December 2005, and in July it will have more leisure/transient guest room nights than it did in March, the peak of high season. Business is much stronger for July this year than last year, said Communications Director Melissa Ladley.

Factors the hotel attributes to this include consumer confidence following the quiet ’06 hurricane season and strong bookings for Cayman’s summer promotion Summer Splash, along with Camp Cayman at the Ritz-Carlton for kids aged eight to 18.

Bookings continue to be almost as strong as July through the third week of August, and while September is very far out to predict, it is traditionally the quietest month of the year.

The Hyatt’s Brigitte Brown said business at its 53 beach suites is OK for summer, but it could be better. June has been the best summer month of this year so far, at 75 per cent. May was 63 per cent, while, so far, July looks to be at 60 per cent.

As far as the months of July, August and September, the hotel is behind pace on last year with bookings. However, she hopes summer will still show better results than last year, because people are often leaving it just two weeks out to book their stay. They are also hoping the easing of the US passport rule will help with summer travel. The hotel is running summer promotions to boost business, such as breakfast included with a room night.

At the Reef Resort in East End, there was occupancy in the high 60s in March through May, the mid 60s in June and high 70s in July. Although the first half of the year looked at little slow, July is looking a lot better at this resort.

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