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, Caribbean tourism authorities see 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).

Facilities Update

Anguilla

  • Cap Juluca's new owner plans a complete renovation costing up to $80 million. The 18 guest villas and restaurants will be upgraded; a spa, retail shops, and resort pool will be added; and a second beach will be developed. The hotel will remain open during the phased renovation.

Aruba

  • The 353-room Radisson Aruba Resort, Casino & Spa was selected as one of Radisson Hotels & Resorts top-performing properties for its annual President's Award. The hotel offers 24,000 square feet of outdoor flexible function areas and over 15,000 square feet of indoor function space, including the Grand Caribbean Ballroom for over 900 guests. The hotel is also home to the $5.2 million, 13,000-square-foot Larimar Spa.

  • The 481-room Westin Aruba Resort recently completed the second phase of its $22 million renovation. The resort offers 20,000 square feet of meeting and banquet facilities.

  • Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort & Casino completed a $20 million renovation of 360 guest rooms and suites.

  • The first phase of renovations of the 411-room Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino was completed in February. The second phase of the $40 million renovation will wrap up this fall and will upgrade the North Tower guest rooms. This renovation will also create the Tradewinds Club, an upscale, 59-room “hotel within a hotel” on the top floor of the resort. The club will provide personalized service and privileges including access to the Tradewinds Club Executive Lounge, a private 1,900-square-foot lounge area with a terrace. The resort also includes the largest casino in Aruba, a 6,500-square-foot spa, and four meeting rooms as well as a 1,541-square-foot ballroom.

Bahamas

  • The Westin and Sheraton Grand Bahama Island Our Lucaya Resort have announced a hurricane guarantee policy; this policy is applicable to group reservations as stipulated in their contracts. Cancellation and no-show fees will be waived for the period that Grand Bahama Island is under a hurricane warning. In addition, guests who are unable to travel to the resort due to closing of the Grand Bahama Island international airport or The Westin and Sheraton Grand Bahama Island Our Lucaya Resort will be given the option for a full refund or a one-click room category upgrade on their next visit within one calendar year. The 740-room Westin Grand Bahama Island Our Lucaya Resort and the 478-room Sheraton Grand Bahama Island Our Lucaya Resort offer 95,000 square feet of meeting space.

  • The 157-room Ritz-Carlton, Rose Island, Bahamas, will open in 2010 with 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.

British Virgin Islands

  • Biras Creek Resort on Virgin Gorda offers 31 bungalow-style guest suites. Full-property rentals can be arranged. The resort is located on a 140-acre nature preserve. Biras Spa offers spa treatments using indigenous ingredients.

Dominican Republic

  • Casa de Campo has added the Cygalle Healing Spa (offering eco-friendly holistic treatments and natural products) and the Beach Club by Le Cirque. Accommodations range from hotel rooms to villas. The 7,000-acre property has over 15,000 square feet of meeting space, three Pete Dye-designed golf courses, 13 Har-Tru tennis courts, and the largest sporting clays facility in the hemisphere.

  • The Ritz-Carlton, Cap Cana, is under construction. The 220-room resort will include a spa, a marina, and 8,000 square feet of meeting space. Guests will have access to Cap Cana's three Jack Nicklaus Signature golf courses. It is scheduled to open in early 2010.

  • Westin Roco Ki Beach and Golf Resort is scheduled to open north of Punta Cana in 2009. 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.

  • Plans call for a winter 2008 opening of Moon Palace Casino, Golf & Spa Resort on the easternmost tip of the Dominican Republic. The 1,791-room resort will feature a 65,500-square-foot convention center, divisible into 32 sections.

  • A fourth quarter 2008 opening is planned for the 497-unit Green Village at Cap Cana, A Wyndham Grand Bay Resort. The property will include one-bedroom bungalows, two-bedroom villas, and four- to six-bedroom residences, plus an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus golf course, 5,000 square feet of meeting space with access to an adjacent convention center, a 3,550-square-foot Wyndham Blue Harmony spa, a fitness center, two restaurants, and tennis.

  • In Punta Cana, the all-inclusive 658-room Edenh Real Arena opened in early 2008 with five restaurants, 24-hour room service, and meeting facilities for up to 700 attendees.

  • Development is under way on the Roco Ki resort community in Punta Cana. The project will include the Westin Roco Ki Beach and Golf Resort, scheduled to open in 2009. The 337-room resort will include 56 condominium hotel suites and 20 bungalows, an 18,000-square-foot spa, and 20,000 square feet of meeting space. The following year will mark the opening of Fairmont Roco Ki. Fairmont will include a 255-room hotel; a collection of condominiums, villas and estate homes; restaurants and bars; 17,500 square feet of meeting space; a Willow Stream Spa, fitness area, and a pool; and beach facilities. Roco Ki will offer a Nick Faldo-designed golf course, while future phases will add a marina, a hotel, and shopping areas.

Jamaica

  • 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 and guest rooms.

  • Secrets Montego Bay is scheduled to open in late 2009. It will consist of two 350-suite all-inclusive resorts and a convention hall with a banquet room for up to 600 people, a 20-person boardroom, and four conference rooms.

  • Scheduled for a fall 2008 opening, the 299-unit Solis The Palmyra will be located in the Rose Hall area near Montego Bay. The resort will include guest rooms, suites, and villas; two oceanview pools; a spa; four restaurants; and 13,000 square feet of indoor meeting space with a 6,000-square-foot grand ballroom.

  • West of Montego Bay, Grand Palladium Jamaica Resort & Spa and Grand Palladium Lady Hamilton Resort & Spa opened July 1. Part of the Fiesta Hotel Group, they offer 1,056 rooms, nine restaurants, five pools, and dedicated meeting space.

  • With work scheduled to start early next year, Sandals Resorts has announced a projected 2010 opening for the 130-unit Royal Plantation Dragon Bay in Port Antonio. The $100 million expansion and redevelopment program of the former Dragon Bay hotel and villa site will include a spa and accommodations ranging from one-bedroom suites to tree houses. The villas may be designated as an adults-only site, although Dragon Bay will accept children.

Mexico

  • Unik Island Resort & Spa is scheduled to open in November on Isla Mujeres, off the coast of Cancun, with 84 suites. The resort will feature six restaurants and bars, a spa offering Mayan treatments, and meeting space for as many as 210 attendees.

  • In 2009, the entire Le Blanc Spa Resort in Cancun will covert to the Concierge Level plan featuring king beds only, room service with select restaurant menu, two 25-minute massages, nightly turndown service, nightly petit-fours, espresso/American coffee machine, and iPod dock.

  • In Puerto Morales on the Riviera Maya, NH Hoteles is constructing a 375-room all-inclusive set to open in late 2008. NH Hoteles also operates NH Krystal Cancún, located in front of the Cancun Convention 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, a business center, and a meeting room for up to 40 attendees. All guest rooms feature high-definition plasma TVs, wireless high speed Internet connection, Bose audio system, and DVD/CD or iPod player.

Puerto Rico

  • The 600-room Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa, A Wyndham Grand Resort, reopened its casino in November 2007 following a $5 million expansion. The resort also features more than 48,000 square feet of function space, two 18-hole championship golf courses designed by Tom and George Fazio and Greg Norman, a 7,000-square-foot spa, and 11 restaurants.

  • The $180 million, 248-room La Concha, A Renaissance Resort, opened last year in San Juan with 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, $209 million Sheraton Puerto Rico Convention Center Hotel is scheduled to open in September 2009 as the anchor hotel for the 580,000-square-foot convention center. Along with a casino and entertainment complex, the hotel will include two ballrooms, banquet and meeting rooms, and a full-service spa.

  • The 150-room St. Regis Resort and Residences at Bahía Beach, 16 miles from the San Juan airport, is scheduled for a 2009 opening.

  • The W Retreat and Spa, Vieques, is scheduled to open in April 2009. The former Martineau Bay property has received $30 million in renovations and will now have 157 guest rooms and four meeting rooms totaling 3,548 square feet.

  • Hilton Ponce Golf & Casino Resort has unveiled a new 6,240-square-foot Salon Pavilion Exhibition Center, which can accommodate 550 people.

  • Caribe Hilton recently completed renovations to the Garden Wing and Executive Tower, including upgrades to guest rooms, corridors, lobby, landscaping, public areas, dining, and meeting space. In addition, the property recently completed its Executive Floor lounge and 168 Condado Lagoon Villas, making the resort the largest in San Juan.

U.S. Virgin Islands

  • A $47 million project at the 180-room Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas, added 55 club suites as well as 15 one-bedroom executive suites and three two-bedroom presidential suites spanning 3,000 square feet. Also new: the Caribbean's first Prada Spa. More than 10,000 square feet of meeting facilities were renovated in the project.

  • Scheduled for a 2010 opening, the 400-room Wyndham St. Croix Golf Resort and Casino is part of a $250 million complex that includes a new 43,000-square-foot conference center. The 294-acre property will feature a 25,000-square-foot casino, an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus signature golf course, a 17,000-square-foot spa and fitness center, and four restaurants.

Trip Tips

  • 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.

  • Get off-site: If your group is staying at an all-inclusive in the Dominican Republic, arrange a tour ahead of time. There's a lot to see and do. For ideas, go to godominicanrepublic.com.

  • For a glimpse of Old San Juan history, attendees might enjoy a free guided tour of La Fortaleza. Built in 1533 as the first fortification for the defense of the colony, La Fortaleza today serves as the governor's official residence. www.fortaleza.gobierno.pr

Ask the Tourist Board

Antigua and Barbuda Tourist Office
(888) 268-4227
www.antigua-barbuda.org
Departure Tax: $20
Hotel Tax: 8.5% room tax plus 10% service charge

Aruba Convention Bureau
(800) TO-ARUBA
www.aruba.com
Departure Tax: $37
Hotel Tax: 6% plus 12% service charge

Bahamas Ministry of Tourism
(800) BAHAMAS
www.bahamas.com
Departure Tax: $20
Hotel Tax: 6% room tax

Bermuda Dept. of Tourism
(800) 223-6106, ext. 213
www.bermudatourism.com
Departure Tax: $25
Hotel Tax: 7.25% room tax, 10% to 15% service charge

Cancun Convention Bureau
(52) 998-8812745
www.cancun.info
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
(345) 949-0623
www.caymanislands.ky
Departure Tax: $25
Hotel Tax: 10% room tax, 5% to 10% room service charge

Dominican Republic Tourist Board
(888) 374-6361
godominicanrepublic.com
Departure Tax: $20 plus $10 tourist card upon entry
Hotel Tax: 12% plus 10% service charge

Venue Menu

  • Barbados' top visitor attraction has reopened after a yearlong renovation. Harrison's Cave features six new trams, including two that are wheelchair-accessible. A new Cave Interpretive Center features multimedia presentations for up to 40 people. 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 water slides, 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. Twelve acres of grounds available for functions include a historic windmill and sugar factory ruins. (340) 772-0598; www.stcroixlandmarks.com