Onsite: Caribbean Tourism Conference 30

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO-An estimated 600 delegates attended the Caribbean Tourism Conference 30, which kicked off with an opening ceremony at the Puerto Rico Convention Center on Sunday night, but Travel Agent got a head start on the latest Caribbean news on Saturday afternoon. Tourist boards each gave 20- to 30-minute briefings on new developments, airlift and other news agents need to know about selling destinations in the Caribbean. Here are some highlights:

St. Lucia will get its first casino by 2009, with two more to come in the next two to three years. Ending ongoing efforts that spanned for nearly 10 years, St. Lucia's Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister Senator Allen Chastanet said the first casino will be a Divi Resorts casino operated by Treasure Bay.

Martinique announced it would be home to both Marriott and Radisson properties by as early as 2009, making them the first U.S.-brand hotels in the destination. The Marriott is expected to be a new building while the current Kalenda Resort will be reflagged as a Radisson. There also are preliminary discussions to bring a Hilton to Martinique as well.

In Grenada, the first half of 2007 has shown an increase by 10 percent in the stay-over category while the cruise ship sector grew by 18 percent. Grenada's airlift has improved as Air Jamaica announced the introduction of same day connecting flights to Miami via its Montego Bay hub four times per week starting November 4. This is in addition to its regular service direct from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York with connections via the hub to its other U.S. getaways. Excel Airways in the U.K. also introduced a weekly service from Gatwick to Grenada, while Condor Airlines, which has been serving Grenada weekly from Germany during the winter season, expanded its service on a year-round basis in May.

Grenada's room inventory will expand to about 1,600 rooms. The reopening of the 100-room La Source Resort on December 15 will return Grenada's accommodation offerings to the level that existed prior to September 2004. Also, several newly announced hotel projects would result in the addition of about 2,300 rooms to Grenada's stock by the next five years. Among them are Bacolet Bay, Port Louis and Levera Hotel projects.

Vernice Walkine, director general of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism said she expects rooms to nearly double by 2013 from about 12,000 rooms to more than 20,000 rooms. Agents can also expect another add-on opportunity for clients in this destination as a new James Bond tour will be announced by the end of the year. Although Walkine said details of the tour are still being ironed out, she did say that the tour would be done by ground operators and would focus on all properties and locations in the Bahamas where James Bond films were shot.

Although Air Jamaica didn't hold an official press conference, news was still released that the carrier's CEO, Michael Conway, resigned on October 18. Conway's contract with the airline offered the option to resign his position, if the government of Jamaica and therefore the ownership of Air Jamaica changed, within his contract period. The government did change and Conway exercised his option. Air Jamaica has a new board of directors, which will meet next week for the first time. The new chairman of the board is Shirley Williams, who will temporarily assume a larger executive role until the new direction of the airline's management is determined.

Steve Bornn, who was recently appointed as CEO and director of tourism for the Discover Dominica Tourism Authority, told attendees that marketing strategies will concentrate more on positioning the destination as an adventure/eco-tourism locale. Bornn said it needs to be made clear that Dominca is totally different than the Dominican Republic, a quite common mistake made by many consumers. Also, while Dominica is located in the Caribbean, Bornn said its competition are mostly Latin America destinations like Belize and Costa Rica.

"We don't consider ourselves to be in competition with other Caribbean destinations because other Caribbean destinations can't compete with use," Born told Travel Agent. "There is no other Caribbean destination that has what we have."

Also, on December 13, American Eagle, the regional affiliate of American Airlines, will introduce a second nonstop flight from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Dominica. The flight will be three days a week on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Despite overall declines in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico is still finding success. In fiscal year 2006, more than five million visitors traveled to Puerto Rico and of that number, 87 percent traveled from the U.S.; 3.5 percent came from the Caribbean; 2.9 percent came from Europe; and 1.3 percent came from Central and South America. Puerto Rico's tourism generates an economic impact of $3.4 billion, employs 60,000 people. (JP)