Local Hotel Occupancy Rates Ride Rise in Tourists

Families relax at The Westin Resort and Villas’ pool. The resort saw its strongest first quarter ever, with occupancy rates at 92 percent.

It is easy for anyone to see that the island of St. John is in the midst of tourist season.

The roads are full of rental cars, the local bars and restaurants are crowded with patrons and the island’s hotels are enjoying record high occupancy rates.

The number of tourists who visit St. John and patronize island businesses, helping to boost the local economy, is definitely on the rise.

Recent positive press, including Conde Nast’s Travelers magazine rating St. John as the number one island destination in the Caribbean last year, has helped to boost interest in the island.

Strong First Quarter
The Westin Resort and Villas is experiencing a banner year so far, according to Hotel Manager Matt Balcik.

“We’re having a record year so far,” he said. “For the quarter, we will be running at 92 percent occupancy. This is one of the best first quarters we’ve ever had.”

Caneel Bay Resort is also experiencing high occupancy rates this season, according to Managing Director Rik Blyth.

“This season’s occupancy rates are very strong,” he said. “Our first quarter is going to end up above our projections. February and March will exceed our expectations.”

Blyth estimated occupancy was up 10 percent from last year.

“The rest of the season looks pretty solid,” he said. “It looks like we’re going to be above projections through July. As long as the weather holds out, we should be in good shape.”

“Emotional Connection”
The Westin Resort experiences a lot of repeat customers, and the hotel is concentrating on making an “emotional connection” with its guests, according to Balcik.

“Our new brand initiative is strictly concentrated on making an emotional connection with our customers,” Balcik said. “We want them to relax, and make them feel like their vacation has started the minute they associate with The Westin.”

The hotel also is working to keep its employees happy, which will help them make that connection with guests, he added.

“We want to make sure that we’re emotionally connected with our associates as well,” said Balcik. “By making sure that they’re satisfied with what they do, they’ll show that to our guests.”

“We feel that by improving our environment for employees, they’ll feel better about the company, and hopefully turn that into guest satisfaction,” he added.

The Westin Resort sees a lot of east coast residents and New Yorkers, added Balcik.

Business From Cancun
“We’re getting a lot of two, three and four time repeat customers,” he said. “We’re also getting some business from Cancun.”

“After the hurricane, they haven’t fully recovered, so we’re getting some of the Mexico guests our way, including both spring breakers and families,” the Westin Resort and Villas Manager continued.

Blyth estimates that Caneel has seen occupancy rates in the high 80s to low 90s during the first quarter.

“We should be real close to 90 percent for the first quarter,” he said. “Through April, May and June, we’ll be in the high 80s as well. By July, we’ll probably be in the low 80s.”

The tourism market is seeing significant improvement this year, Department of Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards told the Senate Economic Development, Planning and Environmental Protection Committee last week.

Active Hurricane Season
Another active hurricane season is predicted for 2006, which could cause travelers to be weary about traveling to the Caribbean.

St. John resorts experienced a decline in customers during last year’s hurricane season.

“September and October were much worse than last year (2004),” said Blyth in a November interview with St. John Tradewinds. “My gut feeling is that it has to do with all the hurricanes we had last year, and the threat of them for this year.”

The Inn at Tamarind Court received a lot of inquiries from potential customers concerned about hurricanes, manager Stephanie King said last November.

“We were definitely lower in the months that the hurricanes hit,” she said. “People calling to ask about our hotel were asking me what our hurricane policy is. I would attribute the drop to hurricane season, just from what concerns I get on the phone.”