Tourism property managers remain upbeat

Tourism property managers are upbeat about tourism business despite the global economic crisis.

Business may be down from last year but a cross section of resort managers say repeat visitors are remaining loyal while new guests continue to come.

December, January and February were better than expected at the 295-room Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort, said Director of Marketing Carolina Voullieme.

‘Our occupancy is not bad, although it is less than last year of course,’ she said.

December showed 71.6 per cent occupancy for the month, which was actually 4.7 percentage points above the previous year.

January, at 76.3 per cent occupancy, was just slightly above last year, by 1.4 per cent.

For February, she expected to close just 10 percentage points down on last year in terms of occupancy.

‘Two weeks ago things looked very different for February,’ she said.

It’s an example of how the shorter booking window makes forward hotel business unpredictable.

March and April are below booking pace, Ms Voullieme said. Some visitors are booking as little as a week in advance, she said.

The hotel’s goal is to be at least on a par with last year.

‘We’re doing everything we can to make our numbers good and we’re optimistic and think we can still have a successful year,’ she said.

Dan Szydlowski, director for hotels on the Cayman Islands Tourism Association’s Board, said the first quarter is looking pretty strong but with more transient rather than group business.

He said people are still having weddings, going on honeymoons and taking family vacations.

He manages the 343-room Westin Casuarina Resort and Spa.

For the first quarter of the year general revenue at the hotel is down between 15 per cent and 20 per cent on last year with occupancy down about eight per cent to 10 per cent.

‘The biggest shift is in [corporate] group business,’ said Mr. Szydlowski.

‘It’s not so much that groups are cancelling but there’s a reduction in numbers of groups as a result of companies scaling back or the amount of attendees dropping because they haven’t achieved the goals to get on the incentive trip.’

Mr. Szydlowski said there is a domino effect throughout the island because of the amount of money these groups usually spend.

He said April and May look fairly decent for bookings. The hotel’s rates drop after Easter.

Mr. Szydlowski said the hotel staff will work with the airlines to develop incentives to attract overseas guests and will continue to take care of loyal repeat guests’.

At the Reef Resort where there are 166 bedrooms, occupancy (rooms occupied by hotel guests, expressed as a percentage of rooms that are available), is not up, but that is because it went from 110 to 152 units when it opened the final phase in July 2008 – a 38 per cent increase in rooms to fill.

Its measure for business is room nights sold, explained Director Tom McCallum.

For December, room nights sold were up 28.4 per cent on last year, January was up 5.4 per cent and February was so far up 37.4 per cent.

March is tracking just less than 10 per cent ahead of the prior year, but April is tracking behind, which Mr. McCallum described as scary.

‘Yes, people may be booking very late, but I’m just not sure what the summer season will bring . . . my crystal ball is very hazy,’ he said. ‘2009 is going to be a very tough year, not just for Cayman, but for regional and world tourism.’

He said The Reef Resort is well positioned as it offers a great place for a relaxing beach vacation.

The resort launched its new Simply All Inclusive programme in April 2008, which has seen a business boom.

‘These are mostly new guests to the Cayman Islands, so with this and other innovative marketing and products, The Reef is bringing new business and reaching new markets for Cayman,’ he said.

At Plantana Condominiums where there are 36 units in the short term rental pool, Manager Carlene Alexander said business has fallen off and as long as there are issues in the US with banks and mortgages she expects the trend to continue.

She said guests that have been coming for 10 or 15 years with high retirement incomes will continue to book a year in advance but new bookings will see a falloff.

While December 2008 was slightly down on the previous year in terms of occupancy, January 2009 was down by 20 per cent but February had been in line with last year, just two per cent off.

The lowest performing month appears to be March while April is outperforming last year for bookings.

Ms Alexander said she is surprised with business considering in November the condos experienced several cancellations.

She said that caused a bit of panic, but there haven’t been cancellations since.

She said there were a lot of last-minute bookings to fill in the cancellations.

Guests are booking up to a year in advance and parts of next December and February are already sold out at Plantana.

At The Grandview Condominiums Assistant Manager Kenesha Hurlston said business is doing well for the 16 units in the short-term rental pool.

Several specials are being offered to boost business.

‘The word from travel agents is that travellers are looking for good deals and booking last minute,’ she said.

December and January were on a par with last year with the usual repeat clients and some new guests. The last two weeks of December were sold out.

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