Tropic of the day

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As the UK shivers, tour operators have produced cheap deals to lure us to tropical climes. Jeremy Gates reports

With many Britons desperate to escape our savage late winter weather, leading airlines and hotel groups are packaging some great off-peak deals to persuade travellers that the Caribbean remains an affordable destination.

The latest rise in Air Passenger Duty (APD) from April 1 means a family of four pays the Government up to £376 each time it flies from a UK airport with the tax a big blow for travellers bound for the Caribbean.

So British Airways led the fight-back with a national campaign offering seven-night room-only hotel breaks 
on Barbados from £529. That offer expired on March 29, but more good value deals focus on off-peak months later in the year.

Many Caribbean destinations need off-peak business this summer after a tough winter. The region also faces a fall in its fly-cruise numbers, as cruise lines find customers won’t pay APD on top of the cost of flights.

Trade journal Travel Trade Gazette (TTG) says: “The harsh realities of the economic downturn, exacerbated by rising tourist taxes, higher fuel costs and cheaper rival holiday spots have put pressure on the Caribbean region like never before. Prices have become a major issue – with £999 seen as a critical cut-off point in persuading people to book.”

The squeeze on prices is so intense that Caribtours, a leading operator to the region, has a new programme – C by Caribtours – for budget-conscious travellers with 46 hotels in eight destinations, many requested by customers or travel agents.

ITC Classics plans a similar venture later this year – Caribbean Hotel Company –which will enable customers to bid for stays at 200 hotels in the programme. All-inclusive resort chain Sandals has a Grand Pineapple brand with cheaper deals on resorts in Antigua and Jamaica. Off-peak Caribbean is usually good value, and this summer could soon look better than most.

Sandals promises 35 per cent discounts on bookings by the end of April: seven nights all-inclusives at Sandals Caryle, near Montego Bay, Jamaica, from £1,349 saves £414 per couple.

Carol Hay, director of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation for UK and Europe, says: “We are striving to keep the Caribbean as a competitively priced destination for British visitors, despite rising APD taxes. Operators and hoteliers are making up for this by offering exceptional deals .”