It’s a balmy 80-degrees on a late January day in Montego Bay, Jamaica. I’m sitting in the open air lobby patio of the famous Round Hill Hotel overlooking the Caribbean Sea. During my stay in a private 6-bedroom villa, I had the chance to mingle with an Austrian ambassador and his wife, and a French woman and her husband of more than 50-years who escaped Paris days before the Nazis took over the city during WWII. This is where the rich and famous come to relax.
In-between off resort excursions, I sat down with Josef Forstmayr, the Managing Director of Round Hill and President of Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association, to discuss the changing tourism market in the Caribbean.
Josef Forstmayr, Managing Director of Round Hill and President of Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association
1. More Family Travel
It’s already started, but more and more families are traveling outside of the United States. “We’ve seen this over the last 10 years and it’s only continuing to grow,” says Forstmayr, who is 52 and grew up in Austria. “Our lifestyles have changed. Many times parents both work, therefore [there is] a real focus on spending time together on vacations. Even very wealthy travelers are finding they are spending enough [time apart from their family] and there is a certain level of guilt that comes along with it. Plus, Forstmayr says, there are really good packages in the market, with great low cost carriers from JetBlue to AirTran to Spirit that have opened up the market to make it more affordable.
2. Boutique Hotels are In
There’s a strong focus on unique experience travel, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be luxury. “It’s your island outpost properties, your Golden Eye (Resort), your Caves and Rockhouses, Forstmayr says. “Properties in unique positions and [in] really strong connection to where they are, in Ladera in St. Lucia or One&Only in Ocean Club, Bahamas to a Round Hill in Jamaica.”
3. More Honeymoons
The Caribbean is the second most popular honeymoon destination for the U.S. market. According to a survey done by the wedding magazine The Knot, Jamaica is the most popular honeymoon destination in the Caribbean with 19 percent of the market share.
4. Soft Adventure
There is a growing desire to get into the mountains and not just do the organized activities, but explore the countryside a little more. European guests tend to be more adventurous than their American counterparts, but also stay longer than a three to four day trip, Forstmayr says.
“Americans don’t have a lot of vacation time which means they come for only four or five days," he says. As for Europeans, they have a long way to travel, “But once they are here, they spend a lot more time and want to take back a cultural impression,” says Forstmayr. “Things you’d never do back at home,” he says. Things like zip-lining, bamboo rafting and polo lessons. Once you do it and realize it is spectacular, you want to keep doing it,” he says.
5. East vs. West
The Western Caribbean will continue to be dominated by those from North America, while the Eastern Caribbean, the smaller islands -- St. Lucia, Barbados, Grenada, Dominica -- have more flights from Europe.
6. Girlfriend Getaways & Guy Golf Outings
Traveling with your friends is bigger than ever, and to all destinations, including the Caribbean. There are first class courses in the Caribbean without having to wait. Men and women are staying single longer, which means more disposable income and time to spend with their friends, especially to a fun, sunny destination like the Caribbean.
Dawn Reiss is a Chicago-based journalist and a former St. Petersburg Times and Dallas Morning News staff writer who stories have been published by TIME magazine, Travel + Leisure and Chicago Tribune.
Image Credit: Dawn Reiss