Monday, December 12, 2011

Sara Macefield's Impressions of World Travel Market 2011

Times may be tough but, as always, the Caribbean Village shrugged off the industry’s woes with its irrepressible partying spirit that injected colour and glamour into this year’s World Travel Market. However, there was no disguising the signs of the global economic squeeze – and resentment among some exhibitors at the high cost of exhibiting at ExCeL. St Lucia had opted for a smaller stand than previously while, for the first time I can remember, Sandals didn’t take a stand at all, preferring to base itself with various tourist boards.

But, despite this, the village not only retained its optimism in the face of the increasing APD burden, but came out fighting with news of continuing investment and new developments determined to keep the Caribbean at the forefront of travellers’ minds. Work has already started to expand Antigua’s VC Bird International Airport, one of the region’s main hubs, while St Kitts is forging ahead with some major tourism and residential developments.

It was encouraging to see new badly-needed life being injected into Tobago’s hotel scene with the former Tobago Hilton becoming the Magdalena Grand and government initiatives to encourage further hotel developments on the island. But, to my mind, it was left to Sandals – one of the region’s most innovative companies – to come up with the most exciting news; that work will finally start next April on the Caribbean’s first over-water villas. This is a development bound to prompt much interest and promotion which should hopefully help to draw attention to the region as a whole.

Having visited the Caribbean on cruise ships this year, stopping in the Bahamas, Grand Cayman and Jamaica and, more recently, staying on Barbados and going off-the-beaten track in the Dominican Republic, the beauty and culture of the Caribbean continually leaves me entranced. And it’s this that makes me optimistic for the future.

The Caribbean has much that rival destinations can only dream of and with new developments and extra products coming on-stream, it has plenty to shout about. As a Caribbean specialist writer, there are plenty of stories I am hoping to tell through Definitive Caribbean. With its unparalleled breadth and depth of knowledge, the relaunch of this website promises to strengthen Definitive Caribbean’s position as an informed and independent authority – and most importantly, one that users can trust.

Emily Ashwell's Impressions of World Travel Market 2011

This year the Caribbean Village at World Travel Market again brought a taste of tropical fun to the expo. But behind the glamour of the carnival queens and rum punch cocktail hours, there was serious business to be done.

There are massive tourism opportunities in the Caribbean at the moment. At WTM I was able to get updates on developments, such as Cristophe Harbour and Kittitian Hill on St Kitts and Canouan Island in the Grenadines, to name a few. As well as new tourism developments some well-established favourites, such as Blue Waters and Carlisle Bay on Antigua, have had facelifts.

However, the Caribbean certainly faces challenges in 2012, particularly in the face of the Treasury’s announcement of the double inflation rate rise in Air Passenger Duty (APD) next April. The Caribbean Tourism Organisation has vowed to continue lobbying against the tax, which unfairly hits the region.

It was particularly interesting to talk to representatives from Trinidad’s hotel sector on how the State of Emergency has affected tourism. The good news is that it looks like the new 21st Century Policing Project is set to make a positive impact on Tobago.

I was delighted to return to travel journalism earlier in the summer after maternity leave. One of my first jobs was editing some of the content on Definitive Caribbean’s website, as well as freelancing for my old employer, Travel Weekly, to contribute to its Caribbean features. The depth and breadth of the knowledge on Definitive Caribbean is, I believe, unparalleled. As the internet opens up a world of user reviews that sometimes present vastly differing opinions, it is essential that travellers have access to a comprehensive and trustworthy resource such as Definitive Caribbean.

Jane Anderson's Impressions of World Travel Market 2011

There was a generally upbeat mood in the Caribbean Village despite the harsh realities of the worldwide recession and I felt there was an emphasis on returning to an authentic Caribbean, where the islands play to their strengths and unique cultures.

I liked the fact there were many small, family-owned properties as well as large groups, and it was interesting to see the Turks & Caicos promoting the lesser-developed islands as some of the last of the true exotics in the Caribbean, with Salt Cay and the caves and mangrove swamps of Middle Caicos. I loved the emergence of activities like the proposed cycle/swim/run/swim/run across North Caicos, Parrot Cay, Dellas Cay, Pine Cay, Water Cay and Provo.

Russ and Magdalena from True Blue Bay on Grenada were full of news about how they promote local arts and crafts, while Rebecca Thompson at Maca Bana described how guests get taken into the countryside for art lessons and to the hotel’s small-holding to pick fresh produce to cook with the chef. I think artisanal activities such as these are set to become more valuable to tourism in the Caribbean.

This year has seen me travel to St Barths and Barbados to see what these upscale islands can offer travellers on a budget, while on a visit to Antigua I took my children to sample the Puffin Books-inspired kids programme at St James’s Beach Club. In 2012 I’m looking forward to returning to the Caribbean, potentially to the Turks & Caicos for Definitive Caribbean and possibly Bermuda.

In my travels across this region, I will bring back whatever I find to the Definitive Caribbean website, keeping it innovative and up-to-date. I’m keen to seek out relatively unexplored areas like the Caribbean art scene, while at the same time spreading the exciting news of the relaunch of Definitive Caribbean.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Trinidad State of Emergency 2011 – ‘Curfew’ by Stephen Thorpe

The situation on the streets of Trinidad has been a cause for concern since the Government announced a curfew and state of emergency in August as a response to growing violence in some eastern sections of the capital Port of Spain.

While the curfew has now been lifted, a UK Channel 4 television programme entitled ‘Unreported World: Trinidad: Guns, Drugs and Secrets’ went out on primetime on November 25th highlighting alarming social problems engendered by gang culture and drugs trans-shipment which is an increasing menace throughout the region.

The twin island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago attracts half a million tourists per annum and visitor arrivals have undoubtedly been affected in recent months. However there is no reason for prospective travellers to abandon plans in the coming weeks as the Trinidad Carnival season gets into full swing before the climax on February 20 and 21.

The main social drag of Ariapita Avenue in Port of Spain with its buzzing bars and restaurants has been unaffected and the mantra for any newcomer to the country remains the same - stay alert, avoid ostentatious displays of wealth and never cross the central Savannah parkland at night. Commonsense is the watchword in fact, just like every other developing country.

Elsewhere, the established beach resort of Mt. Plaisir at Grande Riviere on the north coast and the birdwatching mecca of Asa Wright in the Northern Mountain range remain havens of tranquillity. The state of emergency has been mollified and is expected to be lifted entirely by early December.

For information on what to do and where to stay on island, please see the Definitive Caribbean Guide to Trinidad.

More from World Travel Market, November 2011:

World's Best Tourism Destination 2012

Visit and Invest in Trinidad and Tobago

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Our new website is coming in December!

More Journalists
We’ll have a bunch of new islands for you to digest. The Cayman Islands, written by dive specialist Tim Ecott, and Montserrat, St Martin/Maarten, Saba and St Eustatius written by top food writer, Nigel Tisdall. Jane Anderson is exploring art through the Caribbean, while Peter Ellegard has joined us as our golf correspondent. Sara Macefield has been subbing vast swathes of our top level copy, written about Sailing and Regattas, Culture and Heritage, Food and Drink as well as Cruising in the Caribbean and a host of other new features. Emily Ashwell is looking to become our “News Guru” with Sara - covering all the major hot topics as they arise. Tess Hokin has updated our Anguilla Guide and will be submitting news and reviews about the island as well as stories from St Martin/Maarten.

More Topics with Better Navigation
As our journalists cover more topics, igniting news stories and giving added interest to each destination, so our website will grow – from having fewer than 500 pages to more than 1200! It will also be much easier to navigate around the site…our user testing showed us that our visitors wanted to search by image, by product and by map, so we’re giving them what they want – making our navigation much more intuitive.

Full Directory Listings
We are adding a Directory Listing, so that the site goes from featuring the best of the best in each business category to listing all businesses that cater to tourism on every island. This will be the first directory of its kind, in the Caribbean! However, our journalists will still make their own recommendations of who is doing the best job – it should be interesting to see who gets featured!

Social Media and User Review Integration
Once you’ve seen what we have to say, perhaps you’d like to discuss it or tell your friends? We will be integrating the usual social media tools so that our users can share their research, comment on our reviews and list their favourite places - perhaps recommending a few places that we haven’t managed to get to!

Booking Facilities
And whilst we still don’t count ourselves as a booking engine, rather a guide to the region, we are pleased to say that we are improving our booking facilities so that users can more easily book directly with a product or company, contact a tour operator or down the line make arrangements using a carefully selected booking engine.

We hope you enjoy the new site when it goes live and we welcome any feedback…

Happy Travels!

Monday, February 7, 2011

TripAdvisor Versus True Advisors by Sara Macefield

Whenever I’ve flicked through the hotel reviews on TripAdvisor, I’ve always been puzzled as to how some hotels can attract feedback of such opposing extremes. On the one hand, there will be a glowing report from Mr and Mrs Over-the-Moon about how they’ve had the best stay of their lives; on the other will be a bitter diatribe-like rant from Mr and Mrs Angry that leaves you thinking their lives have been irreversibly blighted by the experience.

How can a single property go from being so wonderful to so terrible?

Having gone on to TripAdvisor and other such sites for guidance, reviews like that leave me more confused than ever and I end up having to go with my gut feeling or better still, turn to a source where the reviews are accredited.

You see, I have a problem with anonymous claims and statements.

As a journalist who is used to putting my name to whatever I write, I have to make damn sure that my facts are correct and my views are genuine and defensible. The shroud of secrecy surrounding the authors of posts on TripAdvsor and other such sites makes me suspicious, especially when I hear of stories where complainants have a grudge to bear or are working to some hidden agenda.

Likewise, I also wonder if syrupy sweet reviews have been posted by the hotelier himself, his friends or even his public relations company.

It doesn’t seem as ridiculous as it sounds as such cases have come to light in the past, and TripAdvisor, for one, promised to step up its monitoring. But is any system foolproof? Allowing people to write whatever they like, without having to face the consequences, sets a dangerous precedent to my mind. Why should they be above putting their name to what they write and why aren’t they made to?

This is the issue that has been taken up Scottish entrepreneur and hotelier Duncan Bannatyne who is leading a campaign again a negative review of one of his hotels on TripAdvisor. His calls for the US-based site to remove fraudulent and defamatory reviews have turned the spotlight on a company, known for attracting the wrath of hundreds of hoteliers for its virtual “anything goes” policy on reviews.

Adam Raphael, editor of the Good Hotel Guide, which tracks its reviews; knows the identity of the authors; and checks up on the comments they make; has branded TripAdvisor as “shameless” for its “feeble” approach over authenticating contributions.

About Definitive Caribbean, Sara says:
As a reader, you may not agree with everything you read on Definitive Caribbean, but at least you know who’s written it, and can contact them if you feel strongly enough.

Such openness brings trustworthiness that those at DefinitiveCaribbean and the Good Hotel Guide strive for and sites such as TripAdvisor can never hope to achieve unless they take radical and badly needed action.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A window into the past with a West Indian twist

If you’ve ever visited one of the English-speaking Caribbean islands, jumped into a car and driven off on the left-hand side of the road, have you ever wondered why?
Maybe you’ve been too busy trying to avoid a darting mongoose or dodging the potholes to give it much thought…But this is just one of the many present-day reminders of the islands’ past that has helped to shape these countries today.

The English may have left traces of their time on these islands, but the Caribbean people have given them an unmistakeable West Indian identity. Take the traditional stone-built churches that could have been plucked from any English village, surrounded by tropical palm trees, and hosting the sort of rousing Sunday church services not often found in the UK.

Beautiful Georgian architecture and imposing plantation houses may have taken their inspiration from English designs, but creeping bougainvillea and hibiscus brighten up the stonework and lend an unmistakeably tropical touch. This continues inside such building where beautiful locally-made furniture, of Jamaican mahogany for instance, adds a special flair.

Of course, while English is the official language of these islands, many locals speak “patois”, their own language combining a mix of English, sometimes French, African and their own unique words, that make it impossible for outsiders to understand. Strike up a conversation with locals, and you’ll probably find they have relatives who live in England. They might even challenge you to an impromptu game of cricket and will enthusiastically discuss the latest form of West Indies and English players.

There are even familiar-sounding places such as Brighton or Worthing in Barbados, Falmouth in Antigua and Portsmouth in Dominica, but all have their own distinctive West Indian ambience. In the British Virgin Islands, which are among a handful of spots that are still British Overseas Territories, there’s even a traditional red phone box in one of the bays, which has been ingeniously converted into a shower!

In some ways, aspects of the English Caribbean lifestyle are reminiscent of Britain 20 or 30 years ago, particularly among the older generation who place more importance on formal manners and modest dress. Children are turned out immaculately in their uniforms for school and families turn out en masse in their Sunday best for their weekly visit to church. For visitors from modern-day Britain, it is a refreshing reminder of times past – yet with its own distinct flavour that tells you exactly where you are.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Families at Cotton Bay Village in St Lucia

Jane Anderson met with their Director of Marketing, Michael Bryant, at World Travel Market’s what she found out...

Cotton Bay Village likes to promote itself as ‘life in full colour’. Take your family here for a week and you’ll certainly feel the rosy hue of a luxury hotel that really understands what families need for a successful holiday.

For starters, this small property in the north of St Lucia has a great range of two, three and four-bedroom villas with designer kitchens, en suite bedrooms throughout with flat screen TV’s, private pools and gardens, all perfect for families or even two families holidaying together, which works out very economically. Villas come in an eclectic range of styles from colonial to South Beach and can be booked self-catering, á la carte or half-board. There’s great attention to detail as re-visiting families find a photograph of themselves in a frame in the entrance hall.

But it’s not just about accommodation. Cotton Bay Village has taken the trouble to devise father and son programmes such as playing cricket with the locals, deep-sea fishing or diving, whilst mothers and daughters can head to Heaven spa for some quality girl time. All programmes are tailormade to family requirements.

For active families there are two good stables next door to the hotel and it’s possible to ride along the sand and take the horses into the sea. Quite a magical experience - especially for children! Families with older kids might like to try kite surfing on the beach. Three-hour tuition sessions cost US$300 to get you started. There’s also an 18-hole championship golf course right behind the hotel. Whale and dolphin watching or zip line adventures can also be arranged.

The Hummingbird Kids Club offers mums and dads a little freedom. The Hummingbird Crèche takes babies as young as six months, up to the age of three years. Staffed by Montessori trained nannies, parents can rest assured their little ones are in good hands. The crèche is free of charge for up to two hours daily. Parents are also entitled to one free night’s babysitting during their stay. If they want extra one-on-one assistance, a nanny can be hired for US$20/hour.

The Hummingbird Club caters for children from four to eight years and is open daily for a varied activities programme with kite flying outings and picnics a speciality. Joanna, one of the Hummingbird carers takes youngsters on beach-combing expeditions where kids return laden with beautiful shells and driftwood to transform into collages and the like. There’s also a cinema room with beanbags for times when kids need a rest out of the sun, along with computers, a Wii and a ‘dirty room’ for painting.

A great innovation is ‘Bring the Baby not the Baggage’ which allows parents to pre-order practically anything they need for their baby such as Johnson’s baby products, cots, highchairs, Pampers nappies and waterwings. Mums no longer need sacrifice that extra pair of shoes for baby’s paraphernalia and this also helps massively with current luggage restrictions imposed by airlines.

Carseats and babyseats are all ready and waiting when the hotel car picks families up from Hewanorra Airport and DVD players with videos of your choice entertain little ones on the one and a half hour drive north.

When it comes to fussy eaters, the Beach Club 1461 caters for most tastes. Think oversized armchairs on the sand and lots of kiddie favourites on menu such as fresh pasta and gourmet fish fingers. Children Under-12 eat free from the 1461 children’s menu every day and under fives are not charged an all-inclusive supplement when a family elects to go all-inclusive.

Bruschetta is a lovely deli open daily, which sells fresh produce from bread and fruits to coffee and wine. Sandwiches and pastries are made fresh on the premises and can be home delivered. There’s also a local supermarket close by, but if you don’t feel like lifting a finger, you can pre-order with concierge.

Butler service is offered, but you can have as much or as little done for you as you like from unpacking your luggage to private dining – a real treat for parents. Life in Technicolor I’d say!

For more general information about the hotel please see Definitive Caribbean’s Review of Cotton Bay Village.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

World Travel Market 2010 - DefinitiveCaribbean reports from Excel

World Travel Market is the biggest event of the year for us...A great chance to meet and greet our friends from the Caribbean as they update us on all the latest news and views from the region.

This year we linked up with Caribbean specialist journalists, Jane Anderson, Tim Ecott, Sara Macefield and Stephen Thorpe to explore their specialist areas - Cricket, Diving, Family Travel, Weddings and Honeymoons.

Feel free to leave comments and spread the love!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Security in the Caribbean - Danger in Paradise?

Sara Macefield explores the subject of security in the Caribbean.

Once again, a Caribbean island has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons - crime. It is a curse that blights every country across the world, but when it strikes in such a seemingly tropical paradise, the impact is far worse.

This time it was the turn of St Kitts and the victims were a coach-load of cruise passengers who were ambushed and robbed at gunpoint in an audacious attack. Luckily no one was injured, but the blatant nature of this crime meant cruise lines were quick to respond in dropping the island from their itineraries.

And who can blame them? How could they possibly guarantee the safety of their guests ashore with such criminals at large? The victims were left mourning the loss of their possessions and St Kitts was left mourning the damage to its reputation and disappearance of vital tourism business.

As islands such as Jamaica and Antigua know to their cost, the spiralling effect of such incidents can have a deadly impact on their image. Nothing hurts healthy tourism trade as fast as a crime-ridden reputation, and countries have to ensure that they act fast – and are seen to act fast – to clamp down on criminal or anti-social activities. After all, this doesn’t only benefit tourists, but the local population too.

St Kitts has responded swiftly, rounding up suspects and implementing security measures, but this isn’t always the case. Some Caribbean destinations kid themselves, claiming that crime levels are no worse than in London or other big cities around the world - but that’s completely missing the point. Is it really realistic to compare a tropical island, where the population is generally in thousands, with major cities where the population runs into millions?

Of course, holidaymakers need to be aware and they need to be streetwise. However, they don’t expect to have to adopt the sort of siege mentality needed in some rougher areas of the world’s leading metropolises. On the other hand, it’s also important to keep things in perspective. An outburst of violent crime in Jamaica’s capital Kingston doesn’t mean that its popular north coast resorts are no-go areas. Not only are they on a different side of the island, but there’s a mountain range between them too.

Everyone realises that crime happens and when it happens to tourists there will be a flood of international newspaper headlines. It’s then up to the islands to nip the problem in the bud. Catch the perpetrators and put systems in place to prevent a repeat. Paying lip service to such efforts and failing to take appropriate action fools no one.

Editor’s note:
Definitive Caribbean passionately believes in the beauty and friendliness of the Caribbean islands. Crimes that touch tourists are very rare but as in every other country of the world, they exist. As Sara Macefield says, "It all depends on how swiftly governments respond to negate the problems as to whether you should travel to the destination." Our message to those contemplating a holiday on St Kitts is to keep things in perspective - when did it last happen (never) - is this likely to happen again? Unlikely...

For an update to this story please read Cruise Lines Return To St. Kitts After Armed Robbery by Nevis 1.

For information about what to see and do on St Kitts please see The Definitive Caribbean Guide to St Kitts.
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