Cast Off to the Caribbean

Renaissance Island, Aruba
Renaissance Island, Aruba

Within the last two years, meeting attendees traveling to leisure-oriented destinations are more and more combining business-related travel with vacation time to streamline expenses. Some in the industry have dubbed this trend “bleisure travel,” such as Starwood Hotels in the UK, who in a May 2010 survey noted that 33% of corporate travelers have extended business trips to spend time with family or loved ones. And 27% on top of that are planning to do so in the future.

Few destinations are as well positioned globally to take advantage of that trend as the Caribbean, especially with companies like Marriott & Renaissance Caribbean & Mexico Resorts (MARCAM). The portfolio includes nine properties in Aruba, Curaçao, Grand Cayman, St. Thomas, St. Kitts, Cancun and Puerto Vallarta. Each hotel feels like a true vacation resort, but at the same time, each was specifically designed with fully integrated, flexible meeting/event space indoors and outdoors. Especially outdoors. So how’s business lately?

“Right now we feel pretty optimistic what we see for 2011,” says Michelle Bozoki, director of marketing communications. “We’re receiving leads from accounts that haven’t booked or even really inquired outside the US since the start of the economic downturn. Our lead volume in June was our highest since September 2008.”

Lingering perception issues concerning corporate travel to leisure destinations also seem to be tapering a little.

“What groups are doing now is combining a corporate meeting with an actual incentive in the agenda,” says Bozoki, whereas in the past incentives were mostly about relaxation, teambuilding and excursions…. There was a point last year where they weren’t even looking at resorts, especially offshore resorts, but now we’re seeing the business coming back.”

Bozoki explains that MARCAM’s entire sales force is in the US where their clients are, and all of them can speak authoritatively about the entire portfolio and spectrum of services.

“When a meeting planner comes to us and says here are my business needs and objectives, we have three brands, we have many different price points, and we have different destinations and amenities,” she says. “So the salesperson can really target which property, which destination and which experience is going to be right for that planner based on his or her needs.”

Additionally, the properties offer all-inclusive pricing, which in the past had its limits due to the double occupancy requirement. Now it’s become a more significant selling point since the hotels are seeing a growth in bleisure-related extended stays for attendees bringing their families/significant others. Here’s the best part. The leisure nights can be booked at the same or similar contracted rates the group incurs, versus full FIT pricing.

“We offer really great rates for pre and post,” says Bozoki, “and we’re seeing more people asking for that—it’s a big trend.”