Millenium fears hurting carribean : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread


Millennium Fears Hurting Caribbean

By MATTHEW J. ROSENBERG Associated Press Writer

MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica (AP) -- It is late November and many of Jamaica's largest and most popular resorts, usually booked solid by now, are running full-page ads hawking rooms for New Year's 2000.

It's the same across the Caribbean, where hotels, airlines and cruises jacked up prices in anticipation of a windfall -- only to be confounded by consumer frugality and jitters over the Y2K computer bug.

``Business is not going to be particularly strong during the millennium week,'' said Michael Youngman, marketing director for the Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization.

``A lot of people thought they were going to make a lot of extra money, but it hasn't evolved that way at all,'' he said, adding that ``serious discounts'' were now likely in many places.

Youngman emphasized that millennial tourism has been weak worldwide. But for the Caribbean, where tourism is the chief source of income, it's a particularly big disappointment.

Jamaica is a favorite destination for U.S. travelers. But mid-market hotels, normally 90 percent booked for the New Year by now, have occupancy rates of only about 70 percent, despite a marketing blitz.

``We've done nonstop somersaults trying to convince people to come, but there comes a time when whatever you do is not working, and what is there is there,'' said Gordon ``Butch'' Stewart, owner of the Sandals chain of resorts and Air Jamaica.

Like others in the industry, he said part of the problem is fear of travel whipped up by reports about the Y2K bug, a programming oversight in which software that records years by the last two digits could make computers think the new year is 1900, causing possible breakdowns.

Perhaps most damaging are some U.S. companies' requests that employees not stray too far afield, in anticipation of Y2K emergencies.

``The more the Y2K talk has continued, the more (the season) has died,'' said Joseph Forstmayer, vice president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association.

He also blamed airlines that ``raised their prices ... living what I call a 'millennial fantasy.' It has had a terrible effect for those two weeks.''

For now, some resorts are sticking to the special millennium rates -- like the Bitter End in the British Virgin Islands, where the rate -- $600 per person per night, with a seven-night minimum -- is double what it was last year.

Others, like Manuco Gandia, co-owner of the Galeria Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, are flexible. ``We raised prices by one-half for the week of the millennium, but as it gets closer, the price will come down because I don't want to let rooms go empty,'' he said.

Richard Doumeng, president of the St. Thomas-St. John Hotel and Tourism Association, estimates the hotel occupancy rate for Christmas-New Year's week is only about 30 percent on St. Thomas and St. John.

``Many (hoteliers) had made price adjustments up for the millennium. Since that wasn't going to go, most are at least back at the normal rates, and in many cases, they're discounting,'' he said. Three charter operators canceled flights to the U.S. Virgin Islands because their flights weren't booking, he added.

Even the Caribbean cruise industry, which has enjoyed tremendous growth in recent years, has been affected.

``There is still space available for most of the cruise lines,'' said Donna Esposito, president of the National Association of Cruise-Oriented Agencies. ``I don't think the cruise lines anticipated the situation. They announced the millennium cruises at high prices (but) the closer it gets, they will all be offering some kind of discounts to fill up the space.''

A late-season hurricane didn't help matters. Mid-November's Hurricane Lenny killed a dozen people in the northern Caribbean and caused millions of dollars worth of damage in islands from St. Croix to Guadeloupe.

But in the end, John Bell, vice president of the Caribbean Hotel Association, said the problem ``comes down to a final decision by most people who feel it's such a watershed day in their lives that they want to spend it with their family and friends.''

``This has been a surprise.


AP-NY-11-29-99 1422EDT

-- Homer Beanfang (, November 29, 1999


Also see this thread: <:)=

Risk of Y2K fallout is a great unknown in many countries

-- Sysman (, November 29, 1999.

Its because everybody has to be at work or on call. Its hard to be on call when you're on the beach in Jamaica. Its going to be a police state over the New Year.

-- Guy Daley (, November 29, 1999.

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