The Caribbean: Trending Issues and Challenges Facing Hospitality Development

By Parris Jordan Managing Director, HVS - Caribbean | August 30, 2015

The Caribbean hospitality industry continues to strengthen as hotel operating fundamentals have exhibited continuous growth following the global economic downturn that began in the last decade. The Caribbean hotel market has shown steady improvements in average rate, occupancy and RevPAR since 2010. As STR shares, Caribbean-wide average daily rate increased every year since 2011 and notably by 4.3% year to date through June 2015, compared to same period last year. And Caribbean-wide RevPAR improved every year since 2011. These trends are driven mainly be the increases in average daily rate. Moreover, with limited new supply scheduled to enter the market coupled with a favorable forecast for higher levels of tourist arrivals, the overall market is expected to continue to strengthen even further. However, the one major challenge still facing the region is the limited amount of financing available for new construction, which in turn limits opportunities for developers to build new hotels.

The Re-Emergence of the All-Inclusive

The re-emergence of all-inclusive hotels is taking great strides, as it is a fast growing sector. It seemed to fall a little under the radar, as independents and brands now have their own vacation club programs. But the all-inclusive hotel is back and better than ever with their creation of ultimate loyalty programs. Neil Kolton, Director of Resort Sales & Service for the Caribbean and Florida at Interval International, sees the all-inclusive ultimate loyalty programs to be appealing to the same demographic attracted to timeshares.

When the all-inclusive segment saw its lull, the emergence of such programs occurred in the traditional, timeshare resort; these were usually residential with the home away from home feel. Developers began selling such programs as an alternative to vacation purchases. All-inclusives have now joined in, and as Kolton has noted, it has become a very popular product offering. The all-inclusive product is similar, but it is not real estate. Rather it offers distinct amenities to customers such as special VIP privileges, early check-in and late checkout, good locations throughout the property, and at times a discount on the all-inclusive fee.

Javier Coll, Executive Vice-President & Chief Strategic Officer (CSO) of Apple Leisure Group believes that the all-inclusive hotel has long since been a trend, but is definitely now on the rise. The emergence of the high-end, all-inclusive hotel is a catalyst in such a rise. Apple Leisure Group is a vertically integrated business made up of tour operation companies, travel agencies and resort brands. Coll remarks that 99% percent of his customers chose to stay in all-inclusive resorts. Fifteen years ago, there would be a mixture between the all-inclusive and the traditional hotel, but that trend has in fact slowly faded.

Also 15 years ago, Apple Leisure Group developed the first set of high-end all-inclusives. "We believe that we are pioneers when it comes to that sector," remarks Coll. Most of Apple Leisure Group's all-inclusive properties are located in Cancun, Riviera Maya, Montego Bay, and Punta Cana. Interval International's Neil Kolton also sees most all-inclusive properties in Mexico, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic. He also sees more space for those all-inclusives to grow in areas such as Aruba and St. Maarten.

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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.