If you’re thinking about your July 4th barbecue or road trip to the Caribbean summer vacation this year, you’re not the only one. According to a March 2023 report by travel data firm ForwardKeys for the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, air travel to the Caribbean between June and August 2023 showed a 48% increase over flights booked in the same months in 2019.
Seasonal lines have blurred, with summer now the Caribbean’s new high season. Generally, mid-December to mid-April was the most prestigious, most expensive time of year, coinciding with the cold winter months in the US, Canada and Europe. Crowds will thin out after Easter, ushering in the quiet season of the hot, humid, hurricane-prone summer months.
“The pandemic sparked a major rethinking of the Caribbean as a year-round destination,” says Simon Neger, senior vice president of sales, marketing and communications, Oetker Collection, which includes Antigua and Barbuda and Eden Rock’s luxury Zombie Bay Island Resort. St. Barths. “Sure, it’s a little hot, but generally it’s perfect beach weather.”
The initial spark came when Americans couldn’t go to Europe for summer vacations, adds Naeger. In May 2022 compared to May 2019, there was a 30% increase in occupancy of resort suites at Zombie Bay Island, and occupancy of private villas doubled from May to August.
It’s a boom that other luxury properties are eyeing for the rainy, quiet season that has led to hotels and restaurants closing for renovations. In 2022, Sands, Palms and Shores Club in the Turks and Caicos Islands “experienced a full year of almost no downtime. There was no seasonal break,” says Karen Whitt, Hartling Group vice president of sales and marketing. Occupancy rates at the Palms and Shore Club are up 26% from 2021, she adds.
Located in an exclusive area on the southern tip of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, Eden Rock Cap Cana hasn’t experienced a dull summer season in two years, says Rosalynn Castillo, director of sales and marketing.
“Remote work schedules have definitely had an impact on Caribbean travel trends,” says Candace Douglas, an international lifestyle and real estate consultant in Grenada. “Many travelers are on vacation outside of the long and typical peak travel seasons.”
Maurice Smith, founder of Atlanta-based Eugene Torrico, a luxury travel agency, thinks travelers suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out). “I don’t think people really care [about hurricane season]. We offer travel insurance in case your trip is interrupted at the last minute. It’s off-peak season, so you have better rates, and it goes a long way with the airfare rates we’re seeing across the board now.”
Popular summer islands
Smith’s agency is seeing high demand for luxury islands such as Antigua, Anguilla and Turks and Caicos. This is a change from last year’s booking preference for destinations in Mexico such as Los Cabos, Riviera Nayarit and Puerto Vallarta, he says. Family travel has boosted interest in villa rentals for summer vacations, with an increase in bookings to Jamaica’s Goldeneye, Round Hill and Caves. The Shore Club’s six 8,800-square-foot villas — plus the condo resorts that populate the Turks and Caicos Islands — bring an advantage, Whitt says, to many groups and couples vacationing together.
In the DR, Eden Roc Cap Cana is seeing a similar boom from families seeking private villas and pools, especially those with college-bound teenagers. A “Fly the Nest” summer package ($2,500 to $3,500 per night for a two-bedroom villa, plus tax, with a four-night minimum) will launch this week, offering activities ranging from Dominican cooking classes to private boats. Charter.
“Off Season” Benefits
Travelers are receiving perks for summer vacations in the Caribbean
Increased airline bookings in the low season mean better rates can be found on new routes. (See our tips for coping with inflation). Consider the route from Los Angeles to Puerto Vallarta that JetBlue will open on June 15 (one-way fares starting at $313) or its nonstop flight from New York’s JFK Airport to Granada from August 7 to September 1 (one-way fares starting at $692). Additional summer and fall options include Frontier Airlines’ new nonstop service from Denver, Chicago O’Hare and St. Louis to Montego Bay, Jamaica (starting at $126, one-way, in June).
Hotel prices remain more attractive for summer. At Oetker Collection’s Caribbean resorts, on average, rates can drop as much as 35% from May through August, says Neger. While the promotions are currently on the Hartling Group’s Turks and Caicos properties, that could change, Whitt says. The Caribbean in summer offers a smart alternative to more expensive spring break vacations, especially for large families, he adds.
On St. Bart’s, a lively summer restaurant scene prevails as businesses stay open, making it easy to get reservations, says Naeger. “This might be the perfect entry for a first-timer to St. Bart’s.” Luxury properties whose winter inventory is limited may be more accessible.
This year’s short booking window makes it difficult to predict occupancy levels for summer 2023, some hoteliers who spoke to Bloomberg said. (Hopper’s 2023 Trends Report shows a 30% reduction in travel planning time compared to before the Covid-19 pandemic, with travel planning a week ahead in regions such as the Caribbean). They are all hopeful that the trend for busy Caribbean summers will continue.
Eden Rock St Barths is seeing full occupancy in May and high (80%) occupancy levels for June and July, says Neger, while its 150 private villa rentals on the island show high levels of summer bookings. Silver Sands on Grand Anse Beach in Grenada has seen a 40% increase in summer stay occupancy levels this year compared to 2022.
“Families have realized how easy it is to travel to places like the Caribbean,” Whitt says. “I think there was kind of a psychological shift of ‘let’s do it now’; we might not have another opportunity, and it’s good to move on to the weekend.”
Top 10 most booked destinations for summer 2019 through summer 2023, as of April 5 (results from ForwardKeys air ticket data)
US Virgin Islands 56% increase
Turks and Caicos Islands 32%
Puerto Rico 23%
Dominican Republic 22%
Saint Maarten 22% Bahamas 16%
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