Over the past few years, the Caribbean has weathered two kinds of storms: natural (hurricanes) and manmade (the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative). Despite this, tourism continues to grow. The islands are boasting expansive hotel growth, much of it in the luxury sector, with mega-resort construction mapped out for the coming decade.
Much of that growth is in the Spanish Caribbean. The Dominican Republic is reporting a 16 percent increase in foreign arrivals. Cancun, devastated in 2005 by Hurricane Wilma, has bounced back with renovated and improved resorts as well as a $24 million beach renewal project. The destination is repositioning itself, moving away from its spring break image to one emphasizing luxury resorts with spas, golf, fine dining, and shopping.
Cancun is meeting the anticipated growth with construction of a third terminal at its international airport, one of several airport projects in the Caribbean. Sint Maarten and Curaçao have completed new terminals, while Montego Bay, Jamaica; Aruba; and San Juan, Puerto Rico, are expanding theirs.
Several island parks are also under way. Aruba, undergoing more than $200 million in enhancements to its tourism product, is creating a $16 million park that will be the Caribbean's largest. In Puerto Rico's capital of San Juan, a new park, Paseo de las Fuentes, was dedicated last September. Dotted with fountains and reflecting pools, the urban park is across from the Caribbean's largest convention center and is part of the $1.3 billion, 113-acre Puerto Rico Convention Center District, which will include hotels, retail space, restaurants, and residences; completion is planned for 2012.
The Wyndham Aruba was reflagged The Westin Aruba Resort after a $16 million renovation. The 481-room resort has more than 20,000 square feet of meeting space, a casino, and a spa.
Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort & Casino debuted its open-air lobby, part of $20 million in improvements. Renovation of the resort's 336 guest rooms is expected to be complete this month. The resort has nine meeting rooms and more than 25,000 square feet of meeting and pre-function space.
The Westin and Sheraton Grand Bahama Island Our Lucaya Resort now offers an additional 5,000 square feet of event space. The resort consists of the 740-room Westin and the 478-room Sheraton, and has more than 45,000 square feet of indoor function space.
Cable Beach is undergoing a $2 billion redevelopment called Baha Mar; the site will become a 3,000-plus room resort, making it the Caribbean's largest single phase destination resort. Construction will be completed in 2011.
Accra Beach Hotel and Resort has completed a new wing with 80 rooms, including four two-bedroom oceanfront suites and 24 oceanview suites. They all feature Jacuzzis. This brings the resort's room count to 222. The hotel offers 6,500 square feet of meeting space.
Mandarin Oriental, Grand Cayman is set to open in 2009 on Barefoot Beach.
The 237-room Renaissance Curaçao Resort & Casino in Willemstad is scheduled to open in November.
The 350-room Hyatt Regency Curaçao Resort, Spa & Casino is scheduled for completion in late 2008. It will include an 18-hole Pete Dye-designed championship golf course and 28,000 square feet of meeting space.
The Westin Roco Ki Beach & Golf Resort is set to open in May 2008 in Punta Cana. The 315-room resort will include an 18,000-square-foot spa and 20,000 square feet of meeting space, plus a Troon-managed championship golf course.
Punta Cana will be home to the new $250 million Moon Palace Casino, Golf, and Spa Resort. Phase one will open this month; phase two debuts in December. The resort will offer 1,743 rooms and a convention center for 2,560 attendees.
The $51 million Montego Bay Convention Center is scheduled to open in early 2009 on 23 acres at Rose Hall, with approximately 300,000 square feet for meetings and exhibitions.
The 427-room Ritz-Carlton Golf & Spa Resort Rose Hall, Jamaica has completed the first phase of a $15 million renovation. All meeting rooms, lobby, guest areas, and Cohoba Lounge have been renovated. The upgrading of all guest rooms is in progress. The resort offers more than 25,000 square feet of meeting and reception space.
The 448-room ME Cancun has launched as the first property in the Americas under the new ME by Meliá brand. The resort, formerly known as Meliá Turquesa, offers 11,000 square feet of meeting space.
Élan Resort & Spa-Cancun opened in March; the all-inclusive resort offers 95 rooms, 51 villas, and 23,680 square feet of meeting space.
The Mandarin Oriental Riviera Maya is scheduled to open this fall. The 128-villa property will include a 2,021-square-foot ballroom.
San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino completed phase one of a $35 million renovation. By year's end, all 402 guest rooms of the main tower and the 123 cabana wing rooms will have been upgraded. Its meeting space, renovated in 2006, spans 10,900 square feet.
Condado Plaza Hotel & Casino is renovating its 570 guest rooms and its meeting space and adding a restaurant that will offer three private dining rooms.
Paradisus Puerto Rico, with more than 29,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, has been reflagged the Gran Meliá Puerto Rico. It has a new 11,000-square-foot spa.
Work is under way on a 500-room hotel to serve the Puerto Rico Convention Center. The first of two planned hotels, the $209 million facility, scheduled to open in 2009, will be a Sheraton with 60,000 square feet of meeting space and a 15,000-square-foot ballroom.
The 300-room Condado Vanderbilt Hotel is scheduled to open in fall 2008 with 20,000 square feet of meeting space.
The 248-room La Concha, A Renaissance Resort is scheduled to open this September with nearly 16,000 square feet of meeting space and a casino.
Aruba Convention Bureau
(800) TO-ARUBA; (954) 767-3395
Bahamas Ministry of Tourism
(800) BAHAMAS; (242) 302-2000
Barbados Tourism Authority
(800) 221-9831; (212) 986-6516
Cancun Convention Bureau
(52) 998-8812-745; www.cancun.info
Cayman Islands Dept. of Tourism
(345) 949-0623; (212) 889-9009
Dominican Republic Tourist Board
(888) 374-6361; (212) 588-1012
Jamaica Tourist Board
(800) 233-4JTB or (305) 665-0557
Puerto Rico Tourism Company
Puerto Rico Convention Bureau
(800) 875-4765; (202) 457-9262
USVI Department of Tourism
(800) 372-USVI; www.usvitourism.vi
Puerto Rico is home to the Caribbean's toughest no-smoking regulations. Smoking is prohibited in most indoor public areas, including all convention centers, restaurants, casinos, museums, theaters, pubs, nightclubs, shopping centers.
The most common group transport in the U.S. Virgin Islands are open-air jitneys, locally called safari buses. Topped by a canvas cover, the larger safari buses can hold 15 to 25 attendees.
You can arrange for your group to tour an old sugar plantation in Jamaica. Bellefield Great House, near Montego Bay, offers a glimpse into 18th-century life on the island — for both plantation owners and slaves.
At the present time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises travelers of a risk of malaria in Kingston, Jamaica.
Resort areas haven't been affected by gang violence, but it's been a recent problem in Kingston and areas of Montego Bay, Jamaica. The U.S. State Department advises travelers to avoid Mountain View, Trench Town, Tivoli Gardens, and Arnett Gardens in Kingston, and Flankers in Montego Bay.