Caribbean Exclusive: News from CHIC

MIAMI - In a Travel Agent exclusive, Ajit Mathew George confided to the magazine that his Nail Bay Resort company, along with hotelier Alfred Lowenstein, are in the process of putting up what will be the British Virgin Island's first five-star property. The approximately 100-room hotel, flag as yet undetermined, will be located in the Nail Bay area with luxury villas surrounding it once completed. Permits are in place, George said, and crews are likely to break ground in November with an eye toward a 2007 opening. Coincidentally, this November an official announcement is set to take place. News of the coming hotel is being very closely held, said George. Meanwhile, Janis Braithwaite-Edwards, the BVI's director of tourism, gave Travel Agent the inside lowdown on what could possibly become the BVI's second five-star resort. She said the BVI's tourism board is currently in negotiations with both a hotel developer and a hotel management company on a five-star project for the Beef Island area of the country. (This has also not been officially announced.) But the project is long term, as in three-to-seven years away as far as a possible completion date. "We don't have anything concrete yet," Braithwaite-Edwards said Monday. In other news, St. Lucia officials gave Travel Agent early notice on a coming announcement involving an English development company and its plans for a four-star hotel in the Soufrier area of the country. Apparently, the English firm will officially announce its management partner some three weeks from now. The deal is about to be approved, according to one St. Lucia tourism official. In another exclusive, Nevis Tourism Authority officials told Travel Agent they are working out the kinks in a revolutionary program where visitors would dine and learn local cooking practices in the homes of locals. The program would start as early as this fall. Helen Kidd, CEO of the authority, said locals she has consulted love the idea. Clients would buy tickets at the authority, Kidd said, for the in-home visits. Check [www.nevisisland.com] or contact the authority in the coming months to keep tabs on the nascent program's progress. Also, the Freeman Group, long a player on the service side of the Caribbean hospitality industry, sees expansion in the region in the months ahead. At a Monday afternoon press event, Freeman Group founder and CEO Bill Freeman revealed that the company is in talks with 10 or 11 Caribbean nations to provide service training to everyone from taxi drivers to customs officials. Previous clients include Aruba, Steve Wynn, Donald Trump and MGM Grand. Freeman could possibly attribute his newfound Caribbean success to one of his recently arrived partners. The company has joined forces with the folks at Mobil Travel Guide to improve the product. For the first time, the Mobil Travel Guide will begin rating the hotels in the nations signed by the Freeman Group. Previously the founders of the renowned hotel star-system had confined their reach to the U.S. and Canada. Freeman and others saw the "service factor" as a future make-or-break for the region, saying that it increasingly lags behind other resort destinations such as Dubai. "The service in this region hasn't improved in the last 10 or 15 years," says Freeman. "Service in other parts of the world is frankly, just better, and more and more international visitors are looking for that."

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