It’s a problem many resorts would kill to have to ponder: What’s a hotel to do when its leisure occupancy rate is so high that it just doesn’t have room for incentive groups?
On the Happy Island of Aruba—where there is simply no more room for hotel development and occupancy at high-end resorts like the Hyatt Regency run in the 80s year-round—it’s a serious question. And the hotels have found an answer: setting aside dedicated room blocks for incentive groups, and partnering among themselves when groups are too big for any one of them to handle.
“The incentive market in each hotel is limited to 120 rooms during high season, so now, since the opening of the Ritz Carlton, the hotels are partnering on larger incentive groups,” said Sergino Croes of Eco Destination Management. “We are seeing synergies between the Marriott and the Ritz, which are two brands under the same umbrella, and between the Hyatt and the Hilton.”
Aruba is known for its astronomical return rates; 82% of leisure guests return to the island within five years, “and we are seeing the same thing happening with incentive groups,” Croes said, with groups often setting up a cycle in which they return every three years. In June, for example, the city will be hosting a large incentive trip for a water company; in its honor, Aruba will shut down the City Center and hold a gala party inside a huge former water tank.
The private oceanside deck can be used for weddings or corporate events. Photo: Cheryl Rosen
Among the trends the Hyatt Regency and Aruba in general are seeing, at corporate events and at destination weddings, are:
Incentive group trends
- All-inclusive food and beverage. “All-inclusive is just exploding in the group space, as it really helps customers plan the budget. I can't overstate its importance; close to 40% of our groups opt for some kind of all-inclusive, and many more inquire about it,” said Joel Bunde, general manager of the Hyatt Regency.
- More interactive spaces. Among the Hyatt brands, Hyatt Regency “is really concentrating on making sure we build everything in a way that allows people to meet and connect,” Bunde said. Almost every meeting room has a sofa and lounge-type setting that makes people feel like they are sitting around their own kitchen table or living room.
- Fresh-this-minute food and drink options. From the juice to the fish, guests want to see things made in front of their eyes—“they want to see us doing things; they want us to grill the snapper in front of their guests,” said Geraldine Coutinho-Meyers, associate director of sales and events. Action stations around the room bring the juicers and the grills out from the kitchen and make them part of the experience.
- One-stop shopping. With hotel piers for excursion boats to dock and plenty of restaurants and shops to walk to along the strip, Aruba properties make everything easy.
- More private spaces. Built into the lush greenery are private spaces where couples of business associates or wedding parties can feel alone within the crowd.
- Interest in sustainability. More groups ask about the hotel’s sustainability programs, and like many hotels islandwide, the Hyatt Regency has many. Aruba is trying to become the first sustainable island in the Caribbean, and the Hyatt has composting and water-reclamation programs; recycles its laundry water to reuse in landscaping; and covers the roof of its lower-level restaurants with bougainvillea that look beautiful and also keep out the heat. More meeting planners ask about the hotel’s policies.
- Social responsibility programs. Groups increasingly hold half-day excursions that involve team-building through giving back. The hotels partner with the Aruba Tourism Authority, which recommends activities that will be useful to the island and its inhabitants.
Destination wedding trends
- Hand-crafted cocktails. Local beers and natural ingredients help ground guests in the island experience.
- Hora loca. Right after dinner or around 11 p.m., Carnival dancers crash the party and get everyone moving.
- Couples-only weddings. Couples that cannot afford a full destination wedding come, get married and have a honeymoon, then return home and have a reception or casual party for their friends.
- For the bachelorette party, cooking lessons are a popular way to start the evening.
- The colors of the Caribbean are part of the experience here. As one might expect in a hotel with parrots in the shrubbery, there are “lots of colors mixed with green,” said romance planning manager Rosy Nuboer.
- And happily, even in a destination with so many repeat travelers, use of travel agents is coming back, said Coutinho-Meyers. “Our clients may research online but they want someone to call in case something goes wrong. It’s like a safety net. They are a very faithful client base to their travel agents.”
For 2017, the Hyatt Regency will renovate all 26 of its suites, including 7 Sunset Suites, 4 premium suites and 11 family suites. “The idea is to make sure we represent the climate of the Caribbean with bright colors, and the Regency brand’s open look and feel, where there are no closet doors and everything is at your fingertips,” said Bunde. The suites will get new 60-inch flat screen TVs onto which guests can load their personal content or access the Ipalapa system that lets them reserve beach palapas without having to stand on line at 5 a.m.