SPECIALIST Caribbean operators say agents are reversing the direct-sell trend to sell more and more private villa-based holidays.
Caribbean Connection, Elegant Resorts, Carrier and Harlequin Worldwide Travel all report an upsurge in luxury villas being booked by agents as the Caribbean market matures.
Caribbean Connection brand manager Sarah Browne said: “We are putting effort into educating up to 50 specialist agents on what a Caribbean villa holiday is all about and how to go about booking one.
“For the last 18 months we have had a dedicated team on our villa holidays product. We now have the confidence to select the best-quality villas and all of us have extensive personal knowledge of every property we offer.”
Private villa holidays are a natural product extension – usually direct-sell – for specialist operators. Those who choose to stay in a villa tend to be repeat customers who have visited the Caribbean a number of times and want more independence than a hotel can offer.
The first step for customers is often a resort villa in the grounds of a hotel, such as the Half Moon Beach Hotel in Jamaica or Settlers Beach in Barbados. Guests have the freedom and privacy of self-catering facilities, but the security of being able to use all the amenities of the hotel, from restaurants to watersports. Repeat clients then often choose a private villa, which offers them the chance to be more independent.
The majority of Caribbean properties have a pool and all come with staff. Even the most basic properties have a maid/housekeeper and access to a cook and nanny, while the larger and more expensive villas can offer a complete staff including cook, housekeeper and gardener.
Barbados has by far the largest number of private villas available to rent, mostly along its west coast. But, along with Mustique, it also tends to be the most expensive destination.
The islands of Tobago, St Lucia and Grenada are becoming more popular and are considered to offer better value.
From small beginnings in Barbados, Elegant Resorts has added villas all over the Caribbean and now produces a separate Villas and Cottages brochure featuring eight islands. Villa supervisor Sarah Smallwood-Jones said: “Tobago and St Lucia are proving very popular as they are great value and we are adding to the number of villas we feature there for 2000.
“Mustique, on the other hand, has become very expensive and overcrowded so we are cutting our coverage from 10 pages to two.”
For 2000, Elegant Resorts is adding villas in Jamaica, where it currently has only a small selection. Island Outpost property Strawberry Hill is being introduced alongside villas in the grounds of James Bond creator Ian Fleming’s former residence, Golden Eye.
Carrier Travel is expanding the small villas section of its brochure, adding properties in St Lucia, Tobago and possibly Nevis to its present selection in Barbados and Mustique.
“Customers are realising that a villa holiday is not necessarily more expensive than a hotel stay, particularly in places like Tobago where it’s cheap to eat out,” said Carrier reservation consultant Linda Bell.
Elegant Resorts: from £850 for one week’s rental of the three-bed Caribbean-style Seashells villa on the Bon Accord Estate in southwest Tobago.
Carrier: from £5,735 for one week at the five-bed Seastar villa on Mustique.
The Owners Syndicate: from £3,735 per property per week in the four-bedroom Klairan villas on Barbados’ Sandy Lane estate.
Caribbean Connections: from £2,271 per person for a week at the six-bed Mango Bay villa on Barbados’ west coast, including British Airways flights from London. Prices are based on maximum occupancy of 12 people.
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