It’s no surprise that the Caribbean is a highly sought-after destination for leisure travelers, with its white sandy beaches, eclectic cuisine and cultural attractions spanning thousands of islands. What’s surprising is just how popular the Caribbean is becoming.
Arrivals to the Caribbean grew faster than the global growth rate in 2015, and travel to the region grew in record-breaking fashion, with a seven percent increase in international trips for a total of 28.7 million visitors last year. 2015 was also the first year in recent history that the Caribbean outpaced all other major global regions in growth according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO); the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) also reported that money spent by foreign visitors to the region grew by 5.9%, well above the global average of 2.4%.
Several factors resulted in the record breaking numbers. Collapsing global oil prices, an increase in flights to many Caribbean destinations, economic recovery in main markets, and the strengthening U.S. dollar allowed more Americans to enjoy Caribbean luxury. And new Resonance research on the wealthiest American travelers - the top 1% and 5% - also shows that the Caribbean is now one of their most preferred destinations.
For the Resonance 2016 U.S. Luxury Travel Report we interviewed 1,667 U.S. travelers in the top one and five percent (household income of at least $200k or net worth of $2 million+). We found that 50 percent of the top one percent and 47 percent of the top five percent plan to travel to the Caribbean in the coming 12-24 months, compared to just 33 percent of all U.S. travelers.
One of the reasons we think the Caribbean is so popular with the affluent is that it seems to mostly satisfy their three most important criteria when choosing a vacation destination: safety, favorable climate and easy access by commercial flights.
NEW LUXURY DEVELOPMENTS
The growth is sparking a spate of new hotel development, particularly in the luxury segment, with destinations eager to attract this lucrative clientele.
In the Dominican Republic, Amanera, Aman Resorts’ newest property, is a series of contemporary casitas perched on a cliff overlooking the beautiful Playa Grande Beach on the Dominican’s unspoiled north coast. Opened in November 2015, and listed at an estimated $1,300 per night, Amanera brings “a whole new level of luxury to the Caribbean,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
Elsewhere, all-inclusives continue to evolve. The Warwick is opening a 4-star adults-only all-inclusive on Paradise Island Bahamas, in October 2016. And in Puerto Rico – where both Zika and debt are concerns – luxury hotel development is a bright spot. The island welcomes its first all-inclusive resort in 2016 in the form of Dreams Puerto Rico Resort & Spa in Guánica, Porta Del Sol. The 250-room resort built by Apple Leisure Group subsidiary AMResorts hopes to spark future all-inclusive properties to the region.
“We’re excited to enter a destination that has yet to discover the substantial benefits of the all-inclusive model,” Alex Zozaya, CEO of Apple Leisure Group, told Caribbean Journal.
The Ritz-Carlton opened its second property on Puerto Rico in 2015. Located on eight acres of pristine beachfront property in Isla Verde, Ritz-Carlton San Juan puts guests moments from both the airport and the quaint cobblestone streets of Old San Juan.
It’s not only large Caribbean islands that are attracting the wealthy. Tiny Anguilla - 15,000 strong - has its own luxury developments to boast about. Longstanding Viceroy Anguilla has been recently joined by CéBlue Villas and Beach Resort, Malliouhana Resort, and the Zemi Beach House, which opened in February 2016. Anguilla manages to provide exclusivity, beautiful new hotels, and a barefoot-casual atmosphere – an ideal combination in a country that relies so heavily on tourism, ranking seventh globally for Travel and Tourism’s total contribution to GDP.
Of course, the Caribbean has seen waves of hotel building booms and bust in the past. But with interest in visiting the region rising around the world, the relative safety of the region in comparison to other global sun destinations, and a significant portion of the world’s wealthiest travelers planning to visit the area, the sun appears likely to shine on the region’s tourism industry for years to come.
To learn more about destinations the wealthy are visiting in 2016, the brands favored by the top one percent, the activities and experiences that resonate with them and the distinct types of luxury travelers we’ve identified, you can purchase Resonance's 2016 U.S. Luxury Travel Report here.