CTO's State of the Industry Conference Officially Kicks Off Thursday

Travel Agent arrived Wednesday afternoon for coverage of the Caribbean Tourism Organization's (CTO) State of the Industry Conference, which officially kicks off with an opening reception Thursday night.

Although we had just arrived, Travel Agent pulled our first bit of news Wednesday out of St. Kitts. During a press conference, the St. Kitts Tourism Authority announced that the destination saw a 14 percent increase in North American arrivals in August, compared to August of last year.

There has been growth across the board from all of key geographic markets, with exceptional strength demonstrated in the southeast and upper mid-west, where the re-alignment of routes and schedules due to the mergers of Delta/Northwest and Continental/United have opened up new feeder markets. Additionally, there has been increased weekend capacity via San Juan for the island's traditional market strongholds in the northeast corridor.

Tomorrow, we will be on an all-day media tour of both St. Maarten, the destination's Dutch side, and St. Martin, the French side. First, we will visit Philipsburg on St. Maarten, where the first Dutch colonists arrived in 1631. But what agents should be excited about is our tour of the area's promenade, which has been developed along the seafront and includes shops and restaurants and various bars, serving as a great nightlife pitch for clients heading to this part of the destination.

From there, we make our way to Marigot, the famous capital of the french side. This has long been a popular spot for clients to shop for local crafts and other smaller souvenirs. The marketplace area is cluttered with all kinds of vendors selling local fruits and vegetable, spices, local meat and fish and of course tons of other duty free shopping opportunities.

Then, it's off to visit Fort Louis, which overlooks the bay of Marigot. It was built in 1789 on a hill, overlooking Marigot Bay and the island of Anguilla, by the locals in the town on the orders of Jean Sebastian de Durat, who was governor of St. Martin and St. Barthelemy. Its primary function was to defend the harbor warehouses where goods were stored.

Next up is a drive through Grand Case, a village that has maintained its architectural integrity. Over the years, this spot has become the gastronomic capital of the island, as more and more restaurants opened in the tiny traditional "cases" and in the last remaining "masons a gaulettes," which are house that were woven with branches and covered with straw. This perhaps is one of the biggest tourism attractions between both the French and Dutch sides. All year round, locals and fishermen live and work while thousands of tourists stroll up and down until late into the night. On Tuesday nights, Harmony Night takes place. This is a lively occasion when the local restaurants are hopping, the art galleries and shops remain open until late and the street is buzzing with colorful arts and crafts stands, parades and dancing to the sounds and rhythms of jazz and Caribbean music.

The last attraction we will check out is the Saint Martin National Natural Reserve, another excellent pitch for clients touring this region. Situated on the east coast of the island, the nature reserve is bounced by the sea in a triangle that starts at Anse Marcel, passes to the east of Tintamarre island and ends at the entrance to the lagoon.

Keep visiting www.travelagentcentral.com for more updates from ongoing coverage of the conference, including the latest breaking news from other Caribbean islands.