Pointing to tourism growth rates around 1 percent, compared to world tourism expansion of 7 percent, Alec Sanguinetti, director general and CEO of the Caribbean Hotel Association noted, “The Caribbean is becoming marginalized.” He spoke during a press conference at the Caribbean Marketplace 2008, held in January at Atlantis, Paradise Island, in the Bahamas.
Forecasters had predicted a decline in Caribbean tourism because of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative requiring passports for return from all non-American islands. Now, however, the Caribbean sees many factors coming into play — and few that the region can influence. “We cannot impact oil prices, the housing market, or the exchange rate, but we can impact the state of aviation,” said Sanguinetti. “We have some very serious challenges in aviation.” Along with encouraging new international flights, the islands are working to restore a level of interisland air service. There has also been some discussion of launching ferry service between some islands.
In spite of the difficulties, growth is under way on both large islands and small (including private island development). Vernice Walkine, director general, Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, underscored the potential for the Islands of the Bahamas. “We have been moving more and more in the direction of upscale product. We are very aggressive in our approach to the meetings and incentives business, and it has been helped by the growth at Atlantis. We have seen a healthy growth in the small meetings market and incentive travel.”
Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort & Casino completed a $20 million renovation. The 360 guest rooms and suites received all-new interiors, including 32-inch LCD TVs and high-speed Internet access. The resort has 9,245 square feet of meeting space and 11,637 square feet of outdoor function space.
The first phase of $40 million in renovations of the 411-room Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino is complete. The second phase will wrap up in August and will upgrade the North Tower guest rooms. The resort includes the largest casino in Aruba, a 6,500-square-foot spa, and 11,600 square feet of meeting space.
Plans call for a 2010 opening for the 157-room Ritz-Carlton, Rose Island, Bahamas. Along with a yacht marina, the resort plans a spa and meeting space featuring a 4,200-square-foot ballroom, two meeting rooms, and a boardroom.
The Reef Atlantis, with 497 rooms, has opened on Paradise Island, the completion of a $1 billion, three-phase expansion at Atlantis. Atlantis has more than 300,000 square feet of meeting space.
Viva Wyndham Fortuna Beach on Grand Bahama Island has completed the first phase of a $3 million renovation to its 276 guest rooms. The all-inclusive resort features more than 9,000 square feet of meeting space.
U.S. Virgin Islands
Four Seasons Resort Barbados, scheduled to open in 2010, will have approximately 115 rooms and suites. The resort will include meeting space.
Sandy Lane will undergo an extensive refurbishment this summer, closing the hotel, spa, bars, and restaurants (except for the facilities at the County Club and Old 9) from the end of August to the beginning of October.
Ask the Tourist Board
Mandarin Oriental, Grand Cayman is scheduled to open in 2009 on 10 acres. The 114-room property will be on Barefoot Beach.
The Ritz-Carlton, Cap Cana, is under construction with a 220-room resort including a spa and marina. The resort will have 8,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 5,800-square-foot ballroom. Guests will have access to Cap Cana's three Jack Nicklaus Signature golf courses. The Ritz-Carlton, Cap Cana, and 194 privately owned, beachfront Residences at The Ritz-Carlton, Cap Cana, are scheduled to open in early 2010, part of a two-phase, $1.5 billion project.
Westin Roco Ki Beach and Golf Resort is scheduled to open north of Punta Cana in September. The 337-room resort includes 56 condominium-hotel suites and 20 bungalows and will offer a Nick Faldo-designed golf course, an 18,000-square-foot spa, and 20,000 square feet of meeting space.
The Barcelo Punta Cana Resort has renovated its 795 guest rooms. The all-inclusive resort has 11,000 square feet of meeting space.
The 427-room Ritz-Carlton Golf & Spa Resort Rose Hall, Jamaica, has completed a multimillion-dollar renovation of its 25,000 square feet of meeting space. Guest rooms have been upgraded.
Secrets Montego Bay is scheduled to open in late 2009. It will consist of two 350-suite all-inclusive resorts with 14 restaurants, a spa, 24-hour concierge service, and a business center. It will also include a convention hall with a banquet room for up to 600 attendees as well as a 20-person boardroom and four conference rooms.
Azul Fives Hotel by Karisma is expected to open in December in Playa del Carmen. The resort, available as room-only or as an all-inclusive, will feature 360 suites. It will offer meeting space for up to 250 attendees.
Aqua Cancun opened in February. Rooms at the 371-room resort, part of the high-end brand from Grupo Posadas, include Bose home theater systems, flat-screen LCD TVs, DVD/CD/MP3 players, and high-speed Internet access. There are 16,500 square feet of meeting space in 17 rooms.
Barceló Maya Palace opened in December on the Riviera Maya. The fifth and most upscale property in the Barcelo Maya Beach Resort complex, it features 756 suites, five restaurants and three grills, and seven lighted tennis courts. Guests have access to facilities at the other properties in the complex as well as a spa and conference center.
The 96-suite Aura Cozumel Resort Wyndham Grand Bay has opened in Cozumel. The adults-only, all-inclusive resort includes a lazy river pool, two restaurants, and a meeting room for up to 40 attendees.
The 342-room, all-inclusive Hotel Marina El Cid Spa & Beach Resort has completed a $50 million expansion that added 150 suites, a 13,000-square-foot spa, and a convention center with 7,500 square feet of indoor function space and 5,382 square feet of outdoor function space.
The $180 million La Concha, A Renaissance Resort, opened in November in San Juan. The 248-room resort offers nearly 16,000 square feet of meeting space.
The Condado Vanderbilt Hotel is scheduled for a June 2009 opening. The 305-room hotel will offer 15,000 square feet of meeting space.
The 500-room, $211 million Sheraton Puerto Rico Convention Center Hotel is scheduled to open in 2010 as the anchor hotel for the 580,000-square-foot convention center.
The St. Regis Resort and Residences at Bahía Beach is under construction 16 miles from the San Juan airport. The 150-room resort is set on a private beach and is scheduled for a 2009 opening.
The W Retreat and Spa, Vieques is scheduled to open in December. The former Martineau Bay property has received $30 million in renovations and will have 157 guest rooms and four meeting rooms that total 3,548 square feet in area.
A $47 million renovation has been completed at the 180-room The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas. The project added 55 club suites as well as 15 one-bedroom executive suites and three two-bedroom presidential suites spanning 3,000 square feet. The project included the Caribbean's first Prada Spa and renovation of the meeting facilities spanning more than 10,000 square feet.
Construction begins this spring on the 400-room Wyndham St. Croix Golf Resort and Casino, part of a $250 million complex that includes a new 43,000-square-foot conference center. The 294-acre property, scheduled to open in 2010, will feature a 25,000-square-foot casino, an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus signature golf course, and a 17,000-square-foot spa and fitness center.
A high-speed catamaran now connects St. Thomas and St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The 300-passenger VI SeaTrans travels between the two islands twice daily Friday through Monday; the journey takes 90 minutes.
A risk of malaria is present in Haiti and in the Dominican Republic, especially near the Haitian border and in La Altagracia Province, including Punta Cana and Bavaro. Antimalarial medication is no longer recommended for visitors to Kingston, Jamaica, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does advise extra precautions. Dengue has also been a problem in Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Puerto Rico.
Kingston, Jamaica, continues to experience elevated levels of violent crime. The U.S. Embassy advises its staff to avoid inner-city areas of Kingston. In particular, the neighborhoods of Mountain View, Trench Town, Tivoli Gardens, and Arnett Gardens present danger.
Antigua and Barbuda Tourist Office
Departure Tax: $20
Hotel Tax: 8.5% room tax plus 10% service charge
Aruba Convention Bureau
Departure Tax: $37
Hotel Tax: 6% plus 12% service charge
Bahamas Ministry of Tourism
Departure Tax: $20
Hotel tax: 6% room tax
Barbados Tourism Authority
Departure Tax: $27.50
Hotel Tax: 7.5% room tax; some hotels may add 10% to 15% service charge
Bermuda Dept. of Tourism
(800) 223-6106, ext. 213
Departure Tax: $25
Hotel Tax: 7.25% room tax, 10% to 15% service charge
Cancun Convention Bureau
Departure Tax: up to $50 (fluctuates with exchange rate; includes Mexican International Departure Tax and Mexico Tourism Tax)
Hotel Tax: 12%; 15% service charge
Cayman Islands Dept. of Tourism
Departure Tax: $25
Hotel Tax: 10% room tax, 5% to 10% room service charge
Dominican Republic Tourist Board
Departure Tax: $20 plus $10 tourist card upon entry
Hotel Tax: 12% plus 10% service charge
Jamaica Tourist Board
Departure Tax: $37; may be included in cost of ticket
General Consumption Tax (in lieu of room tax): 15%
Puerto Rico Tourism Company
Puerto Rico Convention Bureau
Departure Tax: none
Hotel Tax: 7% (country inns), 9% (hotels without casinos), 11% (hotels with casinos) plus 8% to 15% service charge for some hotels
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Departure Tax: $14.80
Hotel Tax: VAT 15% plus 10% service charge
Trinidad and Tobago Tourism
Departure Tax: $100TT (currently about US$17)
Hotel Tax: 10% room tax plus 15% VAT plus 10% service charge
USVI Dept. of Tourism
Departure Tax: $3
Hotel Tax: 8% plus service charge 10% to 15%
Barbados' top visitor attraction has reopened after a yearlong renovation. Harrison's Cave features six new trams, including two wheelchair-accessible trams. A new Cave Interpretive Center features multimedia presentations for up to 40 guests. The cave is known for its extensive stalactite and stalagmite formations. (246) 438-6640; http://harrisonscave.com
In Negril, Jamaica, the largest waterpark in the English-speaking Caribbean has opened. Kool Runnings Water Park includes 10 waterslides, a lazy river ride, and amusement rides, and can be booked by groups as large as 2,500 attendees. (876) 957-5400; www.koolrunnings.com
The Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo can host 80 attendees for dinner or 150 for cocktails; lecture rooms accommodate 30 to 100 guests. The aquarium recently added a $1.7 million Natural History Museum focusing on Bermuda's geology and habitats. (441) 293-2727; www.bamz.org
On St. Croix, Whim Plantation Museum, the oldest sugar plantation in the Virgin Islands, serves as a museum and private function venue. Whim dates to the 1730s and is filled with period furniture and exhibits on plantation life. In a detached kitchen, costumed docents prepare traditional johnny cakes. Twelve acres of grounds available for functions include a historic windmill and sugar factory ruins. (340) 772-0598; www.stcroixlandmarks.com