Returning Visitors Still “Want Their St. John” in Summertime

Despite the looming economic situation on the mainland — including significant increases to many travel related costs and the expected reduction of flights to the territory — Love City hotels and villa management companies are enjoying a fairly busy off-season.

On the whole, St. John accommodation providers are doing pretty well. They are finding new, creative ways to assure their guest bookings, while also sticking with what has worked in the past.

Guest bookings at Caneel Bay Resort for the month of June are down 10 percent, when compared to last year, explained Caneel Bay Managing Director Nickolay Hotze.

“The recession in the United States is the main reason,” Hotze said about the disparity.

While the number of weddings at the resort has also declined this summer, Caneel Bay is currently offering special package rates to lure additional guests.

“The result seems to be that there is now a noticeable increase in last minute bookings,” said Hotze.

“Most people who are regular visitors are going to find a way to get their St. John time in,” said Karin Schlesinger of VIVA!Vacations villa management.

People are booking with less lead time, and “that is more of a trend now, than ever before,” Schlesinger said.

VIVA!Vacations now has an on-line blog to facilitate and improve their patrons’ experiences.

“It helps us assure that the information we share with the potential visitor in advance is useful,” said Schlesinger.

Suite St. John Villas/Condos president, Richard Matheny, said that airline ticket increases are having a major impact.  

“Villa bookings are up, and condo bookings are down,” said Matheny. “Condos cost more, but villas are cheaper for several families to book together.”

Matheny is seeing third and fourth year re-bookings among his customer base.

“The airlines are making it harder to use the saved up miles which people have earned,” Matheny said.

Island Getaways has noticed an increase in last minute bookings too, according to owner Kathy McLaughlin.

“A family checked in today that has always gone to Hawaii each year,” said McLaughlin.

The first time Love City vacationers decided to visit St. John this year because of cost increases associated with their annual trip to Hawaii, particularly the airline tickets, explained McLaughlin.

Summer bookings for Carefree Getaways are off to a good start, according to owner Cindy Ward.

“The value of the dollar on St. John is in our favor,” said Ward.

Her experience with summer guests this season has led Ward to the conclusion that, “the cost of gasoline is making it difficult for vacationers in the states to take those long car trips, so instead they are getting on a plane and coming to St. John.”

The number of properties being rented this year is about the same, or better, than last year, explained Diane Janelle, with Caribbean Villas and Resorts.

“People are appreciating the value of planning their vacations in groups,” said Janelle.

The island isn’t safe from the effects of the stateside economy, Janelle added.

“They are eventually going to be felt, perhaps when the high season begins,” she said.

St. John Inn owner Sara Close is keeping busy accommodating guests who want to attend the 2008 St. John Festival.

“I have been getting lots of carnival calls, and we are already full,” said Close.

The St. John Inn is supplementing its offerings during the summer months by making rooms available to renters until November. There are more renters this summer, than in the past, Close explained.

“We cater to the budget minded traveler, and many of them are staying close to home this year,” said the St. John Inn owner.

Travelers who are looking for a laid back experience still flock to the Inn at Tamarind Court, according to Georgette Evans, who spoke on behalf of inn manager Stephanie King.

“People think we cater to back packers, but that’s not really true,” said Evans. “We book singles, newly married, international travelers, as well as the family on a budget. Also, people in all income brackets who want to experience more of the local culture stay with us.”

“We feel we still offer accommodations that are true to the soul of the island, not much has changed here over the years,” said Evans.

The Westin Resort and Villas is experiencing the “same sort of slow down that many others in the Caribbean are experiencing, according to sales director Bill Thompson.

To compensate, the resort is offering numerous, value add-on options for its potential customers.

The resort is seeing an increase in the number of shorter term bookings and families seem to be finding new ways to cut costs in order to manage their vacation expenses, explained Thompson.

“I saw five families using the pool recently, and all five of them had coolers to hold their children’s snacks, juice boxes, and that sort of thing,” said Thompson. “We used to never see a cooler being used here, ever. Parents purchased those items from our shops and restaurants.”