In spite of a record hurricane season in 2005, the Caribbean maintained its trend of positive growth, showing a 3.6 percent increase in arrivals for the year. The region opened its largest convention center, increased airlift, and continued to open luxury resorts.
One of the most storm-ravaged destinations was Cancun, blasted last October by Hurricane Wilma. Recovery is moving along quickly, however, and Cancun announced an early completion to its $22 million beach restoration project. Construction has begun on the second runway and a third terminal at the Cancun airport.
Aruba is investing $200 million in its tourism product with projects including the addition of a $16 million park stretching 10 miles from the airport to the end of the hotel corridor — the largest such park in the Caribbean. A $34 million expansion at Aruba's Queen Beatrix International Airport in ongoing, and Sint Maarten; Curaçao; Montego Bay, Jamaica; and San Juan, Puerto Rico are expanding their airports as well.
At the present time, those air passengers returning to the United States from the Caribbean will need to present valid passports starting in 2007, although debate continues about the date of implementation. The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, originally scheduled for implementation in 2006, will require that all air and sea passengers have a passport on return. This change will not include Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Occidental Grand Aruba Resort, a luxury all-inclusive, has opened. The former Allegro resort has undergone $24 million in renovations and upgrades and now features 391 rooms and suites, seven restaurants, a spa, casino, and a 50-room boutique style hotel within the resort.
By early winter, Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort & Casino will have renovated its nine meeting rooms. The resort has more than 25,000 square feet of meeting and pre-function space.
This spring, the RIU Aruba Grand will close for a $40 million expansion to add 286 guest rooms. The resort will reopen as the five-star, 451-room RIU Palace.
The Divi Aruba Phoenix Beach Resort will undergo a $20 million tower construction project scheduled for completion in fall 2007, doubling its size.
The Aruba Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino is undergoing a $3.4 million room renovation, and it will spend $12 million renovating rooms in 2007.
Radisson Aruba Resort & Casino is opening the 13,000-square-foot Larimar Spa in November.
Cable Beach's Wyndham, Radisson, and Nassau Beach hotels have been acquired by Baha Mar Resorts Ltd. The properties are undergoing an $85 million capital investment, including renovation and rebranding of the Radisson as a Sheraton and renovations to the Wyndham.
Atlantis, Paradise Island is undergoing a $1 billion expansion, to be completed in 2007. The hotel will add 1,000 rooms and about 100,000 square feet to the Atlantis Conference Center.
Four miles from Nassau, Ritz-Carlton Rose Island, Bahamas is scheduled for a 2009 opening.
The Hilton Barbados opened last June. The 350-room resort offers more than 10,000 square feet of meeting space.
Cambridge Beaches will complete this summer a $2.5 million pool renovation, adding Bermuda's first multi-level pool with waterfalls. The 94-room cottage colony resort is also adding two new pool suites, each with infinity-edge plunge pools and ocean views.
The beachside suites of the Hyatt Regency Grand Cayman have reopened.
The Westin Casuarina Resort & Spa-Grand Cayman is now a smoke-free facility. The 340-room resort has been renovated and has added wireless Internet in the lobby. The resort has seven meeting rooms and two ballrooms.
The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman opened in December 2005 with 365 guest rooms and more than 13,000 square feet of meeting space.
The 350-room Hyatt Regency Curaçao Resort, Spa & Casino is scheduled for completion in 2008. It will include an 18-hole Pete Dye-designed championship golf course and 28,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space.
Construction is under way on the $500 million Cap Cana, a mixed-use development near Punta Cana. The property will include three Jack Nicklaus Signature golf courses. The project, to be completed in phases over the next 10 years, will include 500 hotel rooms. The first hotel component, Altabella Sanctuary Hotel & Spa, is scheduled to open this winter with 177 suites, eight restaurants, and a convention center for up to 500 attendees. By the end of the year, the first golf course will be completed.
The 228-room Hilton Santo Domingo opened last July along the Malecon with nearly 17,000 square feet of meeting space.
The 612-room Riu Palace Punta Cana has opened with two conference rooms.
The 210-room Playacar Palace opened last year in Playa del Carmen with more than 4,600 square feet of meeting space.
The 400-room all-inclusive Riu Palace Riviera Maya opened in February.
The 426-room Hilton Cancun Golf & Spa Resort has reopened following a $40 million renovation.
The Fairmont Mayakoba, Riviera Maya, opened in May with 397 guest rooms, 27,000 square feet of indoor meeting space, and a Greg Norman — designed 18-hole championship golf course.
Barceló Rivera Maya Beach Resort has opened a freestanding conference center in conjunction with two new hotels: the all-inclusive Barceló Tropical Beach Hotel and Barceló Maya Colonial Beach Hotel.
The 310-room Westin St. Maarten Dawn Beach Resort & Spa is under construction and scheduled to open this fall with more than 20,000 square feet of meeting space.
U.S. Virgin Islands
The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas is undergoing a $40 million renovation project this year.
Ask The CVB
Antigua and Barbuda
Antigua and Barbuda Tourist Office
(888) 268-4227, (212) 541-4117
Aruba Convention Bureau
(800) TO-ARUBA, (954) 767-3395
Bahamas Ministry of Tourism
(800) 823-3136, (212) 302-2000
Barbados Tourism Authority
(800) 221-9831, (212) 986-6516
Bermuda Department of Tourism
(800) 223-6106, ext. 213
Cancun Convention Bureau
(800) 833-5254, (202) 797-1222
Cayman Islands Dept. of Tourism
Departure Tax: $25
Curaçao Tourist Board
Dominican Republic Tourist Board
(888) 374-6361, (212) 588-1012
Jamaica Tourist Board
(800) 233-4JTB; www.visitjamaica.com
Puerto Rico Convention Bureau
(800) 875-4765, (202) 457-9262
Sint Maarten Tourist Board
(800) ST-MAARTEN, (212) 953-2084
U.S. Virgin Islands
U.S.V.I. Department of Tourism
(800) 372-USVI; www.usvitourism.vi
Ocho Rios — bound groups can avoid the delays and bumpiness of the North Coast highway upgrade project with an intra-island flight from Montego Bay to Oracabessa, Jamaica.
Seaplanes and intra-island flights often have a much smaller luggage allowance than larger aircraft, both for carry-on and checked bags.
A growing number of Caribbean resorts offer hurricane guarantees for coverage in case trips are interrupted by these storms. Hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30.
Although passports are not required for visits to the U.S. Virgin Islands, several popular day cruises take groups to the nearby British Virgin Islands, which will necessitate a passport.
The Islands of the Bahamas has a Tax Information Exchange Agreement with the United States, so meetings held on these islands are tax-deductible. Aruba, Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, and Trinidad and Tobago also have tax agreements with the U.S.
Up to 400 attendees can be accommodated at Pedro St. James on Grand Cayman. The National Historic Site, called the Birthplace of Democracy in the Cayman Islands, includes a 1780 greathouse, expansive lawn area, and multimedia theater. (345) 947-3329, www.pedrostjames.ky
Attendees can arrive by boat at Bermuda's Royal Naval Dockyards for an evening of street parades and galas. Events can be held at the dockyard's parade lawns with a backdrop of the Clocktower Building. Indoors, retailers host special shopping nights; upstairs, two rooms can each host cocktail receptions of up to 400 guests. (441) 234-1709, www.bermudatourism.com
Near Ocho Rios, Jamaica, Cranbrook Flower Forest and River Head Adventure Trail offers four landscaped lawns for events in the 130-acre gardens. Along with dining, activities can range from birding to hikes to the garden waterfalls. (876) 770-8071, www.cranbrookff.com.
At the edge of El Yunque rain forest 35 miles east of San Juan, Hacienda Siesta Alegre offers a Spanish colonial — style venue. Groups of 200 attendees can dine beneath a tiled roof, and 250 people can be accommodated on the tented lawn. The hacienda has recently added a terrace that can be used for up to 175 attendees. (800) 762-1458, (787) 504-8449, www.haciendasiestaalegre.com
For more articles on sites by region, click here.