Small Caribbean hotels get lifeline

WASHINGTON DC – Small hotels struggling for guests in a crowded market and competing with richer, larger and well-promoted properties are being offered a lifeline by a Caribbean-American travel executive who is on a mission to uncover small hotels in the Caribbean that are losing money and experiencing dwindling occupancy rates.

Responding to concerns about the reduced frequency and high cost of intra-regional travel and its adverse affects on hotel occupancies, Haitian-American Caroline Racine, Director of Caribbean Franchise Development at Choice Hotels International – the strategic hotel partner of the Caribbean Hotel Association – recommended that access to state-of-the-art revenue management systems and strong marketing muscle could help bring businesses “into the black” before long.

Haitian-American Caroline Racine of Choice Hotels (far right) connects with tourism and media officials at Caribbean Marketplace in the Bahamas this month. From left is Stephanie Villedrouin of Haiti’s Le Montcel hotel; Sue Gilman, publisher of Caribbean Travel & Life; and Pierre Chauvet, president of Agence Citadelle in Haiti.

Chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation and St. Lucia’s Minister of Tourism, Senator Allen Chastanet recently warned that the small hotel sector was facing collapse if intra-regional travel continues to decline.

He said there had been huge declines in airlift to St. Lucia since the merger of regional airlines LIAT and Caribbean Star, and the proposed sale of American Eagle added further uncertainty.

Racine, who recently attended Counterpart International’s Caribbean Media Exchange on Sustainable Tourism (CMEx) in St. Lucia and the Caribbean Hotel Association’s Caribbean Marketplace in the Bahamas, has been presenting a compelling business case on enhancing performance.

“We are providing the Caribbean small hotel community access to a global stage of travelers, a powerful reservations system, a US$175 million marketing campaign, access to revenue management tools and dedicated Brand Performance Consultants,” said Racine who noted that in 2006 its 10 mid-scale properties in the Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Curaçao, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Turks and Caicos averaged a year-round occupancy of 78 percent and an average daily room rate of US$150.

Racine – whose chain comprises multiple, diverse brands – reports 60 percent of the hotels within the Caribbean Hotel Association membership are small hotels (75 rooms or less) – and while the intra-regional market is of critical importance so is the United States which accounts for more than 50 percent of Caribbean travel. “Many of these travelers rely heavily on brand recognition and reliability when selecting hotel accommodations,” said Racine, who wants to help independent, underperforming hotels achieve greater levels of success.

“The Caribbean is blessed to have a daughter of the region with significant international expertise traversing its waters and providing such an important lifeline,” said Lelei LeLaulu, president of Counterpart International and an expert in sustainable tourism development.
“Branding strategies are imperative in today’s competitive business environment,” said LeLaulu, who lauded the Choice model for not centering its efforts on acquisition of Caribbean hotels, but helping owners stay competitive over the long run in a changing landscape.

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