Destinations of Distinctions promotes luxury travel products in the Caribbean, Central America and Europe to the US market. Kristen has worked in the travel industry for 20 years. She recently celebrated ten years with the company and has been CEO for four years.
We’ve seen at least a 10% to 15% increase in sales year-over-year for the Caribbean and for Europe. The Caribbean is growing fastest for us right now. We’re seeing the most growth for all-inclusive experiences, with private villas for families leading the field.
Belize has become a hot destination in Central America. It’s like the Costa Rica experience but with the added dimension of the Caribbean Sea, so you get rainforest with a wonderful coastline. It’s big for scuba diving, snorkelling and spear fishing, but you can explore the jungle too, which is a whole different experience.
Our five-star Copal Tree Lodge in Punta Gorda, Belize, is an award-winning, world-class destination and eco-resort. It’s one of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World and very focused on offering ecotourism and an authentic taste of the unique culture and cuisine of Belize in a pristine jungle setting.
For the Caribbean, the fall and winter months are when it really comes into its own. That’s when everyone is looking for a warm weather break. For families getting away for a holiday, a Caribbean beachfront villa where everyone can stay together is a very popular choice.
For a first-time Caribbean traveller, I think Antigua is a great choice. It’s a small Caribbean island but with 365 beaches, so a first-time visitor can experience the Caribbean Sea and enjoy the beach culture very easily. The resort we represent is Carlisle Bay. It’s been known for years as having the longest stretch of beach in Antigua attached to a resort. Rooms are located directly on the beach and open right onto the sand, so it ticks all the boxes for a beach experience.
A more seasoned traveller may try St Lucia, known as the Hawaii of the Caribbean. It’s mountainous with a lush rainforest interior. It offers two different experiences in one destination. In the south you can be at one with nature and tour the rainforest by hiking and cycling as well as enjoying kayaking, zipwire and other adventure sports. In the north you’ll find our all-inclusive resort Windjammer Landing, offering luxury villa-style beachfront accommodation for families, couples and honeymooners.
For the traveller who’s done it all, I’d say head to Barbados. It’s the destination where you’ll find a culture rich in history that offers experiences you won’t find elsewhere. It’s one of only four destinations that Concorde flew to apart from New York, Paris and London, so it has great luxury pedigree - there is an actual Concorde in Barbados that you can visit. It’s also known as the birthplace of rum, and we have rum distilleries across Barbados that can be visited in groups or privately.
There’s a lot of history in Barbados - it’s the only country outside the continental USA that George Washington ever visited, and the plantation home he stayed at is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The island offers a great gastronomic experience, with restaurants varying from affordable local cuisine to Barbados’ most famous restaurant and celebrity hangout The Cliff, perched high above an idyllic cove. It’s one of the top 100 restaurants in the world, and you need to book far in advance to get a table!
In Barbados, clients absolutely must do a rum distillery tour. It’s a fascinating experience where they learn how to make the rum. On privately organised tours they can learn how make their own special rum blend and take a bottle of it home as a souvenir, with their name etched on it for posterity.
St Lucia is very much a wellness destination, which chimes well with its rainforest setting. The island hosts multiple yoga and wellness retreats – whether it be for healthy cooking, mindfulness, exercise or diet. Wellness is something St Lucia does very well, and the St Lucia Tourism Authority does a great job of promoting everything the island has to offer.
Antigua is all about the beach experience, and a key part of its charm is its beachfront live music scene. You can hear live music in Antigua almost every day of the week including soca, calypso, reggae, dancehall, jazz and rock. Many restaurants, bars and clubs feature local and international bands and artists. For a luxury dining experience, Sheer Rocks is a very well-known choice. It’s literally carved out of the rock overlooking the Caribbean Sea and it’s a unique place to dine on fresh Antiguan cuisine or enjoy cocktails with an exceptional view of the Caribbean sunset.
The typical traveller is more savvy these days, perhaps because travel advisors have improved and offer higher quality information online. Luxury travellers today want so much more than a hotel room. They’re looking for something unique. They want to find something new to experience that they can’t do at home, then share it with their friends on social media.
We try and get deep down with our travel advisors into who their clients are, so we can tailor a vacation experience that ticks all their boxes.
I’ve seen big changes in the travel industry in my career. The world is so much more connected now and a lot happens on social media. A new generation of travel professionals increasingly share their own travel experiences and stories on social networks and distribute much more detailed electronic itineraries to clients. We want to make sure we stay relevant, so we put much more focus on video, YouTube and vlogs to show people more details about destinations and experiences. It’s very different to the days of dropping brochures into agencies and talking face-to-face!
Luxury is a word that means something different to everyone. For one client, luxury means marble floors, white glove service and the crème de la crème of room interiors. To another client it means every single member of the staff knows their name and exactly how they like their rum punch. Identifying what luxury means to the traveller is going to keep changing and surprising people going forward.
The Caribbean has a worldwide reputation for its beaches and beautiful weather, but a misconception is that it’s all about lying on the beach all day. The Caribbean has much more to offer than beaches, especially a destination like Barbados which has so much history, cuisine and culture to offer.
Luxury doesn’t necessarily mean opulence. Service to me should be standard. If you’re talking about five-star service, an impeccable standard should be a given. Real luxury is customisation and personalisation – it’s about making me feel important and like they’re excited to have me. That’s what we strive to do at all the properties we represent.
To me, VIP means exclusivity, with experiences customised to exactly what I’m looking for. I took a trip to Northern Ireland with my family, for example, and we stayed at the Titanic Hotel in Belfast. We asked the hotel to show us the real Northern Ireland, so they arranged private transport for a full day with a local driver who had fantastic local knowledge. He was our personal guide and showed us all the places to see that we never would have known about otherwise. That’s what we try and do in any of the destinations we offer. We customise everything to give our clients exactly the experience they’re looking for.