Last-minute bookings saved the summer at many hotels and vacation villas across the territory, but the drastically reduced rates that brought visitors took a big chunk out of revenues.
According to V.I. Hotel and Tourism Association President Lisa Hamilton, "Revenues are down 20 to 40 percent."
Medium-sized and smaller properties also saw revenues drop because they weren’t able to fill rooms. Hamilton said occupancy rates at those properties were down by 10 to 20 percent.
Joel Kling, manager at the mid-market Best Western Emerald Beach and Carib Beach Hotels, both on St. Thomas, said medium and smaller hotels can’t afford to slash rates like the larger properties because their margins are much lower. Since they can’t significantly cut rates and larger properties can, the price differential between the two is smaller than normal.
When that’s the case, Kling said that visitors tend to go for the larger properties that come with more amenities.
Occupancy rates at Emerald Beach were at about 80 percent, with Carib Beach running around 40 percent, Kling said.
At Wyndham Sugar Bay on St. Thomas, marketing manager Charlene Brenkus said that occupancy rates were down slightly over last summer, but last-minute bookings were filling in the gaps.
The Buccaneer Hotel on St. Croix, now in its 62nd year of operation, normally offers promotions such as one night free during the summer and fall months, but Marketing Manager Vicki Locke said that the Tourism Department’s Sizzlin’ Sampler promotion was a big help. In addition to a free night, the promotion provided a $300 airfare credit plus certificates for meals and experiences.
While the occupancy is off a bit, Locke said vacationers who do book are cutting back on what they spend. They’ll reserve a less expensive room than usual, she said.
At Coconut Coast Villas, a nine-unit condominium complex on St. John, manager Mickey Addison said occupancy rates were down 10 to 20 percent over last summer. However, she said she was surprised at the number of last-minute bookings, which she chalked up to airfare sales.
"People are saying they’ve found a good airfare, so let’s come," she said.
To get the word out about Coconut Coast, Addison has asked guests to report good experiences on places like Trip Advisor, she said. It appears to be working because she said Coconut Coast’s Trip Advisor ranking has improved.
Addison has also seen a drop in people coming to St. John for destination weddings.
Claudia Carrington, who owns Carringtons Inn on St. Croix, had just two words to say when asked how her summer is going.
"It’s slow," she said.
Carringtons Inn had a few guests, but she said that August and September are dead.
The vacation villa business is also off. Nancy McLaughlin, who owns McLaughlin-Anderson Luxury Villas, manages villas across the Caribbean.
"St. Thomas and St. John always have a following, but it’s slower this year," she said.
That said, she’s offering one night free when people rent for six nights and two nights free with an eight-night visit.
Vacation St. Croix owner Marti Gotts said this summer was not as good as last when it comes to people renting vacation villas. But she said people are booking at the last minute and are probably waiting for airline deals. Vacation St. Croix also is offering two nights free when the customer books seven nights.
Kathy McLaughlin, president of the St. John Accommodations Council and owner of the vacation villa management company Island Getaways, said some of her fellow managers offered one night free, or other incentives. However, owners of many of the villas she manages cut prices back to 2007 levels.
Villa managers are getting lots of competition from villa owners who advertise their villas on websites like Vacation Rentals by Owner. Prospective guests contact the owners directly, who are more likely to negotiate the price downward than villa managers, McLaughlin said.
As for the fall and beyond, it’s too early to know exactly how things will shape up, but many hoteliers said they weren’t optimistic. "The fall will be very difficult," Kling said.
Brenkus called September the only "dicey" month.
Nancy McLaughlin also expects a slow fall, but hopes that last-minute bookings will fill in. Kathy McLaughlin said that she’s surprised at the number of people booking for September, but that winter season bookings haven’t started to pick up. Normally, people would have their winter vacation lined up by now, she said.
Other hoteliers also said things don’t look good for the fall.
According to Hamilton, hoteliers are getting last-minute bookings that improve occupancy rates, but she doesn’t expect September to run more than 30 to 50 percent and October 60 to 80 percent, depending on the property.
And the venerable Caneel Bay Resort is closing for September and October, in what appears to be a first.
"The decision to close is also based on historically low occupancy levels during those months. We will use this time to implement refreshments and improvements," Caneel Bay spokesman Kristen Hutton said in an email.