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).

Facilities Update

Aruba

  • Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort & Casino completed a $20 million renovation of 360 guest rooms and suites. The resort has 9,245 square feet of meeting space.

  • 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.

Bahamas

  • 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.

Dominican Republic

  • Casa de Campo has added the Cygalle Healing Spa, offering eco-friendly holistic treatments and natural products made on site in the spa pharmacy; and the Beach Club by Le Cirque. Casa de Campo, with accommodations ranging from hotel rooms to villas across 7,000 acres, offers 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 with a 220-room resort including a spa and marina. The resort will have 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.

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, a 20-person boardroom, and four conference rooms.

  • Scheduled for a fall 2008 opening, the 299-room Solis The Palmyra will be located in the Rose Hall area near Montego Bay. It will offer 13,000 square feet of indoor meeting space.

  • West of Montego Bay, Grand Palladium Jamaica Resort & Spa and Grand Palladium Lady Hamilton Resort & Spa will open this summer. Part of the Fiesta Hotel Group, they will offer 1,056 rooms, nine restaurants, and dedicated meeting space.

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 golf course 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, $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 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 December. The former Martineau Bay property has received $30 million in renovations and will have 157 guest rooms and 3,548 square feet of meeting space.

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.

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) 998-8812-745
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

Jamaica Tourist Board
(800) 233-4JTB
www.visitjamaica.com
Departure Tax: $37; may be included in cost of ticket
General Tax: 15%

Puerto Rico Tourism Co.
(800) 223-6530
Puerto Rico Convention Bureau
(800) 875-4765
www.meetpuertorico.com
Departure Tax: none
Hotel Tax: 7% to 11% plus 8% to 15% service charge for some hotels

USVI Dept. of Tourism
(800) 372-USVI
www.usvitourism.vi
Departure Tax: $3
Hotel Tax: 8% plus service charge 10% to 15%

Venue Menu

  • 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 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