Hotels and villas in the Cayman Islands are reporting healthy occupancy levels during the holiday period.
“The Christmas/New Year’s period is strong,” said Paul Robinson, marketing director at The Reef. “We are having to discount in January, which is not unusual. Once you get into the February-March period, we are cautiously optimistic, and hoping for a strong season.”
Christmas is tracking on pace with previous years with some modest rate growth, said Thomas Mason of Comfort Suites.
“We are quietly confident that Comfort Suites will have a better holiday season than last year,” he said. “Bookings for the new year have slower pick up with shorter customer booking trends being evident, but still seem to be tracking well. We have had some great feedback from our guests on the improvements we have made to the hotel, today guests are looking for the most but wanting to pay the least.”
Sherry Lee of Cayman Villas said the change had been ‘progressively better’ during the past three years, but this is also due to the organisation working hard to attract guests.
“I’m happy to say that our deposit amount show an increase of about 30 per cent compared to this time last year. Mind you, we have also worked hard this year with a new website, new features for guests/agents, new features for our owners, and a new computer system that is now fully functional,” she said. “Another first for us is that all our properties now have professional photos to promote them. I guess you have to spend it to make it.” Ms Lee said advertising was much more web-based rather than in magazines, albeit that ads in the Compass and Chamber magazine were important in attracting the staycation market, now an important part of their business.
Laura Skec, director of sales and marketing at Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort, confirmed a healthy and sustained occupancy over the holiday season, with opportunities to increase average daily rate.
“We have a very strong group base contracted with approximately 10 months in advance, significantly early on the year in comparison to 2010 and 2009,” she said. “We continue to see a strong demand in the leisure segment, especially since the cool temperatures had started to affect the North.”
Little Cayman’s Southern Cross Club reported 100 per cent occupancy, said Peter Hillenbrand.
“Last year was the first year since last century (1998) we were not full for New Years,” he said. “This year we have turned people away for Christmas and New Year’s.
“[The high season is looking] very good but not excellent yet,” Mr. Hillenbrand said. “We have made up most of the ground we lost in 2008/2009, but not everything.
My goal is to get back to 85 per cent occupancy in 2012. This is a good, and I hope achievable, goal.”
During the last two years, booking windows have shortened and this continues to be a trend within the industry, added Mr. Robinson.
“The market is crazy right now,” he said. “Booking windows seem to be getting shorter. We are now looking at an average of 45 days. Occupancies continue to improve at the Reef, but we continue to try to push up our Average Daily Rate. Consumers are looking for one thing, a good deal. The better the deal, the more likelihood they book. Every day brings new sales from the islands’ wholesalers.”
Because of this shortened booking window, he said, it was a ‘meaningless exercise’ to project how things would be deeper into 2012. However, he did note that as things picked up in the source markets, so Cayman would benefit.
“As the US economy starts to show signs of coming back to life, we anticipate even stronger results. Cayman is still a good brand in the US. It is up to all in the tourism sector to keep it that way,” Mr. Robinson said.
Ms. Skec echoed Mr. Robinson’s words.
“Length of stay continues to be in the averaged four nights of stay, and the short term booking continues to be the trend averaging the one month prior to arrival,” she said.
She said advance booking pace looking into 2012 was similar to 2011 but strong group business demand was significantly higher than in the previous year.
Mr. Hillenbrand noted that the close-in booking trend had started after 9/11 and that he anticipated it would remain so for a long time.
“Between the unstable economy and the jittery world order, people just do not make vacation commitments as far out as they used to. Our average length of stay always lingers in the six days category (when we do not include local reservations). This has not changed much,” he said.
Mr. Hillenbrand said phones at the Southern Cross Club had ‘really started ringing for springtime bookings after the American Thanksgiving holiday.’
“Bad weather stateside always helps with this,” he said.
Mr. Hillenbrand said policy at the club was not to offer counterproductive discounts and that they did not condition their market to wait for deals.
“This has hurt me sometimes in the short term, but I believe help me tremendously in the long term,” he said.
Ms Lee of Cayman Villas said things may be looking up in comparison to relatively lean times.
“I personally feel, looking at our own business and what I’m hearing elsewhere, is that this winter season is promising to be a great deal better that last year’s – let’s hope so,” she said.
According to figures released by the Department of Tourism, 14,356 people came to the islands by air during October, 2011. This continued the 13-month improvement taken on a year-on-year basis. Again the biggest improvement was from Canada, with 1,114 visitors in 2011 compared to 685 the previous year. WestJet’s direct Toronto service began on Thursday, 4 November, 2010, adding to flights by Air Canada.