Caribbean Luxury Holidays and ITC Luxury Travel
Drew established Caribbean Connection as a fledgling tour operator and the business soon became a market leader in luxury travel to the Caribbean.
Passion for the region therefore runs like blood through the veins of ITC Luxury Travel. For us, it’s personal as well as professional; from Chairwoman June Foster who hails from Barbados to Director Judie Hinkson who’s married to a Saint Lucian.
Our expertise in the region also extends to the islands of Barbados and Antigua where we employ dedicated Destination Managers, Kerin Austin and Kathy Arthurton.
Historically it wasn’t really until the sixties that the Caribbean as a holiday destination opened up for the British traveller. Cheaper flights and a wider range of hotels ensured that between the late sixties and the eighties visitors from the UK to the Caribbean grew steadily, especially to islands such as Jamaica, Barbados, Antigua, Saint Lucia, Grenada and the Bahamas, with Commonwealth connections.ITC was one of the forerunners of this movement, sending its first guests to the region in 1974.
It wasn’t just our own history which began in Barbados, but the wider Caribbean tourism industry as a whole; and such was the appeal that it was chosen as one of only a few destinations to merit regular service from London on Concorde. This year, British Airways celebrates 60 years of flights to the island – showing its enduring attraction.
A number of famous names helped its appeal, such as Agatha Christie who in 1956 fell for the charms of the island when she stayed at Coral Reef Club; believed to have been the inspiration for her 1964 novel, A Caribbean Mystery.
In fact, Coral Reef Club had a huge part to play in attracting British tourism to the island. Back in the 1950s, Budge and Cynthia O’Hara set sail for Barbados from the UK, where Budge was appointed general manager of the fledgling hotel. Like ITC’s founder, Barbados got under their skin and they never left!
Fast forward to 2014 and Mrs O’Hara still runs the resort with the help of her sons Patrick and Mark, and daughter Karen, who along with her husband Wayne Capaldi has taken the helm of Coral Reef Club’s sister hotel The Sandpiper, built by Budge and Cynthia in 1970.
Now a Bajan institution is The Sandpiper’s ‘Harold’s Bar’… “The bar started as a beach counter top in 1990, and then in 1998 a group of guests got together and made a sign saying ‘Harold’s Bar’ to thank me for my service,” Harold told ITC. “Then in 2003 the bar was upgraded. Certainly my proudest moment of the past 24 years was winning the Caribbean Hotel Employee of the Year in 2002. I love my job; I get to meet, assist and chat to all sorts of different people from all over the world.”
Another Barbados landmark is Sandy Lane. While enjoying his winter home in Barbados, former British politician Ronald Tree was inspired to create a luxury hotel with a golf course on the island, and he had in mind the old Sandy Lane sugar plantation. The hotel opened in 1961 with just 52 rooms.
Its guest list since then demonstrates its allure as a sanctuary for the elite: TS Eliot, Maria Callas, Frank Sinatra, Vivienne Leigh, Elton John and the Queen have all stayed there.
Rebuilt in 2001, the hotel still attracts the A-list and in September 2008 it underwent several additional refurbishment projects which have further enhanced its luxurious appeal.
The platinum coast is the Bajan home of exclusive addresses, and another to be looking to the future after an ‘all-singing, all-dancing’ makeover is Colony Club. The Elegant Hotels Group’s flagship, colonial-style, resort had a new look at the end of 2013; with a focus on health, wellbeing and minimising their impact on the local environment. Protecting Barbados for the future is high on the agenda at Colony Club, attempting to involve employees and guests in the common goal of preserving and protecting the beautiful island it calls home.
The addition of an organic garden and use of more natural products in the rooms is a further step towards its commitment to corporate social responsibility.
But certainly what has kept Barbados attracting discerning travellers for the past 40 years has been its ability to hold true to its roots. “The biggest changes in Barbados over the past forty years or so have been in improvements and consistency in the levels and quality of goods and services,” says ITC’s Bajan Chairwoman June Foster. “Yes, more hotels and houses have been built, but Barbadians have long benefited from a good standard of education which has driven growth, resulting in demand for better service and quality in all aspects of life there. Naturally, this is also reflected positively in the island’s now mature tourism industry.
“Best of all though, the island keeps its special atmosphere, mainly because Barbadians are secure in their identity as Barbadians first and foremost, with a love for their home, and this has definitely not diminished over time.”
Opening soon in the Grenadines is Pink Sands; sitting on a pretty bbeach on sleepy Canouan Island and promising the ultimate in luxury. It has just 24 suites, two penthouses, six four-bedroom villas and 14 lagoon residences decked out in marble and dark wood with high-tech touches; such as mirrors that turn into TVs at the swipe of an iPod.
Nestled on the quiet eastern tip of Virgin Gorda, Oil Nut Bay is a new, luxurious and earth-conscious resort, only accessible by water or helicopter. Its protected coral reef, teeming with aquatic life, is the perfect spot for scuba or snorkelling enthusiasts.
One of our longest-serving members at ITC is Kerin Austin, who has headed up our Barbados office since September 1990. With her wealth of experience, we picked her brains for some top Caribbean travel tips:
What attractions would you personally recommend?
The Caribbean has wide and varied attractions and I have been fortunate enough to experience some of them. A few of my favourites are taking a trip on the Atlantis Submarine in Barbados and seeing the beauty of the underwater world, or climbing Dunns River Falls in Jamaica - an exhilarating experience. I also love visiting the Sulphur Springs and Pitons in Saint Lucia - the views are breathtaking.
Which restaurant would you recommend for authentic Caribbean food?
I like lunch at Round House in Bathsheba on the East Coast of Barbados; drinking a Banks beer and inhaling the fresh air… bliss.
Which island would you suggest for first-timers?
I would recommend a few days in St Vincent & The Grenadines coupled with a week in Barbados; the contrast is fantastic. Lovely sailing in The Grenadines and a relaxing, step back in time, while Barbados offers several attractions and shopping during the day and fabulous dining options in the evening.
And for those looking for something ‘off the beaten track’?
I do enjoy the natural beauty of St Vincent & The Grenadines: lush vegetation and rainforest make it very interesting for nature seekers.
Are there any exciting developments on the horizon for the Caribbean?
There’s the construction of a new Beaches resort on the area which was formerly Almond Beach Village Hotel, ideal for families, as well as the construction of a purpose built cruise facility in Barbados. And then there’s the International Airport being built in St Vincent.
Here at ITC we’re not the only ones to be celebrating a momentous landmark this year:
Rosewood Little Dix Bay opened in January 1964 - as Little Dix Bay - in the British Virgin Islands. Celebrations to mark the occasion include ‘50th Anniversary’ special rates throughout the year.
Jamaica’s Half Moon, A RockResort opened its doors for the first time on 27th February 1954; meaning they’re honouring 60 years of service in 2014. To help their guests celebrate their Diamond Jubilee the hotel will have a special rate on the 27th of each month.
The luxurious Carlisle Bay in Antigua is celebrating its 10th birthday this year. To honour its decade in style the resort will be creating five newly designed Beach Suites and refurbishing all their existing Beach Suites. A fourth restaurant will also be opening, set on Carlisle Bay’s white sandy beach.
One of our Caribbean destinations is also celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. The island of Grenada became independent in 1974. Today Grenada is a gem of a place to visit and naturally ITC Luxury Travel offers some of the best places to stay. Spice Island Beach Resort, owned by Sir Royston Hopkin is where you’ll discover Grenada showcased in all its glory.
The Caribbean, and in particular its islands with Commonwealth links, has been attracting the Royal family for decades. You can’t mention Mustique without name-dropping the late Princess Margaret, whose private villa Les Jolies Eaux. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge also holidayed on the island before Prince George was born and the Duchess recently returned with her son for his first foreign holiday. The Queen and Prince Phillip have visited numerous times.
One particular resort to have found royal favour is Jamaica’s Half Moon, A RockResort. Prince Harry enjoyed its delights while on his first official Royal Tour to mark the Diamond Jubilee.
The resort said: “During his stay, the Prince relaxed in a five-bedroom oceanfront Royal Villa and enjoyed traditional Jamaican fare including Jerked Smoked Chicken Breast and Ackee & Saltfish with Green Bananas and Steamed Callaloo.”
His grandmother the Queen also stayed in the Royal Villa when she visited in 2002 and Prince Charles has been a regular, returning again in 2008 with Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Cornwall.
For details on prices please call one of our Travel Specialists on 01244 355 490.