Easter strong for accommodation sector

Rollover policy, summer present challenges

The accommodations sector of the Cayman Islands is set for a 
solid Easter.

But the summer looks to present challenges. Guests are still looking for deals and some say the industry is suffering from the rollover policy.

Laura Skec at Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort said the Easter period looks fantastic. The booking window, however, was short, following on from last year. It was a similar story at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, explained communications director 
Melissa Ladley.

“We were originally concerned about Easter occupancies since the holiday is so late in 2011 and so many of our guests from the Northeast US had their spring 
breaks in March. However, we’ve seen strong pickup in the past 45 days from the mid-Atlantic region as spring break in Washington, DC, and Virginia 
is the week before Easter.

“The Cayman Airways non-stop flight from Washington Dulles has been a great sales tool for us to drive business from that area,” explained Mrs. Ladley.

Better occupancy

Comfort Suites’ general manager Tom Mason said Easter week has slightly better occupancy than last year and while room rates appear to be holding, guests are shopping around to look for value-added packages such as spa and dive packages.

Occupancies have been better than 2010, confirmed Paul Robinson, marketing director of The Reef. He said March, in particular, was good, albeit that there was a need to continually look at the product.

“Our rates are not near where they need to be, but the market dictates when we can raise rates and when we stand pat. We are cautiously optimistic about the summer. Again rates will be heavily discounted, but occupancies are trending up.

“The Reef has launched some dive packages, a first for us. The reception has been encouraging. April is not trending up anywhere near what we experienced in March. Some say the late Easter and US schools moving spring break to March are possible factors. 
We continue to discount when necessary and be as innovative as possible,” said Mr. Robinson.

The condo and accommodation sector generally gets many staycationers over Easter, explained Penny Cumber of Cayman Villas. Because residents tend to book late, the calls come in almost up until the day itself.

“Another important point is that one of the reasons why we got so booked up in advance this year for Easter is because we stuck by the summer rates starting on 15 April, so all the Easter bookings, this year are within the summer rates for Cayman Villas. I believe many resorts and hotels extended the winter rate this year to include Easter.”

At Turtle Nest in Bodden Town, Alain Beiner said occupancy in the first quarter was higher than 90 per cent, which is typical of high season.

Summer pace

The summer season is pacing nicely compared to past years but at present the main booking cycle has not commenced, revealed Ms Ladley.

“One factor that is definitely in our favour is how early the destination summer promotion was launched and how it was framed to drive traffic in May and early June as well as in the traditional summer travel period.

“We saw nice spikes in web site traffic and call centre volume during the March television flight in which Department of Tourism launched the promotion,” she said.

Paul Robinson said summer is trending upward and looks to be ahead of 2010, and Ms Skec of Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort noted that after an excellent first quarter they are looking forward to a good off-season.

“Even though summer looks softer than the first quarter, however, we have effective promotions in place that we trust will help us in closing the gap with any opportunity.”

Ms Cumber also said the Department of Tourism’s Summer Splash promotion, which involves a fifth night free, is assisting numbers but because of the shorter booking window it is difficult to assess accurately until the season had finished.

Rollover issues

One issue that has been flagged up by some has been the loss of staff to rollover. Mr. Beiner at Turtle Nest said two key members of the housekeeping staff are likely to have to leave at the same time.

“[Both are] indispensable to the continuing success of the inn and to the awards we’ve won internationally over the years. Both are not only key to our training of new staff members, but are highly valued and often singled out for praise by inn regulars, who have grown attached to the thorough, meticulous and personal care taken of them.

“In spite of the very limited resources of a small facility like our own, the rollover policy saddles us with having to find and train new people, unfamiliar to our guests, unfamiliar with the Island and its culture and whose contribution may well reflect less of a commitment to the inn, to the Island and to local tourism as a whole. Given the importance of tourism to the Island’s economy, we would have hoped for help, rather than hindrance,” said the hotelier.

The Reef’s Paul Robinson confirmed that staff had been lost to rollover and would lose more in the future.

“Rollover is a dirty phrase at the Reef… the concept is ludicrous. It prevents people from investing in Cayman, both emotionally and financially. It is the biggest detriment to real estate since the US recession.”