Growing up in Jamaica, Ryan Terrier embarked on plenty of outdoor adventures. He would often water raft down Dunn’s River with a bunch of friends. The rafts held coolers with drinks and lunches. They’d stop on a beach to eat, then continue down to the famous Dunn’s River Falls. This is one of many memories he has of his childhood, teenage, and early adult years on the island.
Now, as CEO of Island Routes, Terrier is replicating these fun, intimate experiences for visitors to Jamaica – as well as on Antigua, the Bahamas, Curacao, Barbados, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Maarten's, and Turks & Caicos.
Island Routes, a tour operator that launched in 2009, has been hosting group tours and excursions for the past 14 years. The company is now leveling up its product offerings with its new Private and Bespoke Collection, which is a way for travelers to customize individual, immersive experiences that aim to leave them with a closer connection to the Caribbean.
Providing authentic experiences
Each Caribbean Island has its own version of rafting down the river with friends, so to speak – its own activities that locals enjoy, which Island Routes offers to give travelers a taste of the country’s culture.
“The sun, sand and sea is synonymous with the Caribbean – everyone knows that – but there is so much more available,” Terrier told Travel Market Report. "I look at authenticity as: What is it that the locals in that destination do for their fun? Where do they go and have these great meals? And it allows that guest to develop that connection.”
Although it’s not a requirement to work at Island Routes, most employees are Caribbean natives and therefore, know the destinations by heart. Island Routes has hundreds of workers handling everything from transportation to and from hotels to traditional tours to bespoke events.
Island Routes offers more than 500 tour packages to choose from across the islands, which it has been guiding for over a decade. These include excursions such as the popular catamaran tours, hikes, ATV rides, bus tours, snorkeling, and much more.
With the new Private and Bespoke Collection, travelers can delve even deeper into Caribbean culture. They are private experiences that can be customized, and each party still gets their own tour guide. They’re generally more hands-on, immersive, and can range anywhere from a powerboat ride ending in a gourmet dinner on a secluded beach to a chocolate-making class with expert chefs. They are also experienced only with a person's own group, rather than a large group of other travelers.
Demand for these intimate experiences spent with close friends and/or family has increased in recent years, especially since the pandemic hit, Terrier says. “Persons want to have experiences just as a family,” he said. “They didn't want to do them with the general public, whether it was Covid-related or otherwise.”
Tapping into the travel advisor network
Though Island Routes has always valued travel advisors as an integral part of the business, Terrier says, advisors are even more important when it comes to the Private and Bespoke Collection.
A key component to the new offering is the ability to customize the experience. To do that, Island Routes has created a new, designated department of its call center that is dedicated only to Private and Bespoke. These planners are specially trained to work with travel advisors to put all the finest, personalized touches on custom packages, including table settings and decorations for private dining in exclusive areas.
As part of the Prive and Bespoke Collection in Jamaica, there are 12 curated experiences that help travelers and advisors imagine the possibilities of what they can do there. According to Jennifer Ross-Williams, Island Route’s director of marketing and public relations, these packages are “building blocks” that can be purchased as-is or used to create a private, custom-tailored tour package.
“They know that the level of services they’re going to get from our Private and Bespoke team is going to match their own expectations and their clients’ expectations,” she said. “They're not getting lost in this bigger shuffle of day tours that tend to be more mainstream.”
The pre-packaged experiences are coming to Barbados and Grenada by fall 2023, Terrier says. Though the other countries don’t have these yet, guests or travel advisors can still call, talk to someone at their call center, and create a customized experience at any of the places that Island Routes has planted roots in.
Island Routes is getting the word out with roadshows in the U.S. to meet with travel advisors and connect with them about the new Caribbean products.
“Our hope is that once we lock that in that relationship with the advisor and the traveler, they’ll want to just keep coming back to Island Routes because there’s something unique each time,” Ross-Williams said. “Whether they're visiting the eastern Caribbean or Jamaica or another area, every time they can do something different with us, and it can be one day or multiple days of ‘get out and explore.’”
Gaining a good reputation
The folks at Island Routes hope to help travel advisors and tourists reimagine what a Caribbean vacation can look like – and to return to Island Routes to make it happen. But they realize it doesn’t happen without at least a little bit of trust in their company.
"We’ve serviced so many guests – over 600,00 guests a year – and we make sure that we deliver every time,” Terrier said.
To accommodate for the Private and Bespoke Collection, Island Routes is leveling up its tour guides alongside its tours. The company hired a veteran tour guide from South Africa, who has spent many years guiding high-end safaris there, to train Island Routes’ tour guides in becoming more than your typical guide – but rather a provider of a more sophisticated experience. The guide training program began in Jamaica in July and will travel to each island one by one.
“A lot of advisors have clients that haven't traditionally looked to the Caribbean to do these types of products and I think we’re now bringing that option to them,” Terrier added. “Advisors can say, ‘Hey, you can now do this in the Caribbean, we have a company that’s reputable that we trust,’ and travel advisors have the trust of the guests. We are working to develop that trust with the travel advisors.”