Most islands were affected by a downturn in arrivals in 2008, and preliminary tourism numbers coming in for this year show a further decline in travelers. There were bright spots in the region, such as Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, which saw visitor increases in spite of the economic slowdown.

However, even those relatively healthy tourism economies were affected in the meetings and incentives market. Marcia Bullock, Jamaica Tourist Board's regional director, groups and conventions, notes that, while group bookings are predictably low in 2009, “We are seeing an increase in requests for 2010 and beyond.” Bullock predicts that the large number of new and upcoming resorts and the convention center scheduled to open late next year will boost group numbers once again.

While numerous resorts will be unveiled in the coming year throughout the Caribbean, work on several luxury properties has been stopped either in the planning or in the construction stage as the effects of this economic hurricane remain to be seen.

Airlift continues to be a challenge for many islands, but the region is now seeing increased service from low-fare carriers such as JetBlue, AirTran, Spirit, and WestJet.

Atlantic/Caribbean/Facilities Update

Aruba

  • Bermuda

    The 411-room Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino has opened the Tradewinds Club as the second part of a $50 million renovation. The upscale, 59-room “hotel within a hotel” is located on the top floor of the resort. The property has a 6,500-square-foot spa, and four meeting rooms, as well as a 1,541-square-foot ballroom.

British Virgin Islands

  • Curaçao

    Tucker's Point Hotel & Spa opened in April as Bermuda's first new luxury resort in nearly 40 years. The 88-room resort includes a 10,000-square-foot spa and fitness center, a championship 18-hole golf course, and the 5,000-square-foot Tucker's Point Conference Centre, which offers satellite conferencing. The Camden Ballroom can accommodate groups of up to 270.

Dominican Republic

  • Jamaica

    A 2010 opening is planned for Scrub Island, a $100 million private island development with 66 accommodations, a spa, marina, and a 2,145-square-foot ballroom, the largest in the BVI.

  • Mexico

    A 2011 opening is planned for Raffles Tortola, British Virgin Islands, a 100-room resort with 5,000 square feet of meeting space.

Puerto Rico

  • Ask the CVB Aruba

    The 237-room Renaissance Curaçao Resort & Casino opened in February 2009, the island's first new branded hotel in 15 years. The resort has 8,600 square feet of meeting space.

  • Bahamas

    The Barceló Bavaro Palace has reopened in Punta Cana after the addition of 488 new junior suites and the renovation of all guest rooms and public spaces. The property is adjacent to the Barceló Bavaro Convention Center, which can accommodate up to 5,000 attendees.

  • The all-inclusive Moon Palace Casino, Golf & Spa Resort has opened with 1,791 guest rooms and a 65,500-square-foot convention center.

Bermuda

  • Scheduled for a September 2009 opening, The Palmyra, A Solís Resort & Spa, is located in the Rose Hall area near Montego Bay with 299 units. The resort will offer 23,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, including a 5,500-square-foot ballroom.

  • Construction is under way on the Montego Bay Convention Centre, located east of the city between the Half Moon Golf Course and Rose Hall Great House. The facility will offer more than 50,000 square feet of exhibition space, more than 20,000 square feet for banquets, and over 11,000 square feet of meeting space. Completion is planned for late 2010.

Cancun

  • The all-inclusive, adults-only Grand Velas All Suites & Spa Resort Riviera Maya has opened in Playa del Carmen with 493 suites and 91,457 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting and event space.

  • Unik Island Resort & Spa, scheduled to open this fall on Isla Mujeres, off the coast of Cancun, will offer 84 suites and meeting space for up to 210.

Cayman Islands

  • The 503-room, $209 million Sheraton Puerto Rico Convention Center Hotel is scheduled to open by the end of 2009 as the anchor hotel for the convention center. Along with a casino and entertainment complex, the hotel offers 35,000 square feet of function space, including the 16,300-square-foot San Juan Grand Ballroom, the largest hotel ballroom in San Juan.

  • Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa, A Wyndham Grand Resort, in Rio Grande, is undergoing a $40 million capital improvement project over the next two years, which will include upgrades to the guest rooms, public areas, restaurants, and golf courses. The 627-room resort offers 48,000 square feet of function space, a 7,000-square-foot casino, two 18-hole golf courses designed by Tom and George Fazio and Greg Norman, a 7,000-square-foot spa and fitness center, 11 restaurants, and an international tennis center.

Dominican Republic

Aruba Convention Bureau
www.meetaruba.com
(877) 278-2248

Departure Tax: $36.75
Hotel tax: 6%, 12% service charge

Bahamas Ministry of Tourism
(800) BAHAMAS
www.bahamas.com

Jamaica

Departure Tax: $20
Hotel tax: 6% room tax

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Bermuda

Bermuda Dept. of Tourism
(800) 223-6106 ext. 213, www.bermudatourism.com

Departure Tax: $25

Hotel tax: 7.25% room tax, 10%-15% service charge

Cancun

Cancun Convention Bureau
(52) 998-8812-745
www.cancun.info

Departure tax: up to $50 (fluctuates with exchange rate)

Hotel tax: 12%, 15% service charge

Cayman Islands

Cayman Islands Dept. of Tourism
(345) 949-0623
www.caymanislands.ky

Departure tax: $25

Hotel tax: 10% room tax, 10%-15% service charge

Dominican Republic

Dominican Republic Tourist Board
(888) 374-6361
www.godominicanrepublic.com

Departure Tax: $20 plus $10 tourist card upon entry

Hotel tax: 12%, 10% service charge

Jamaica

Jamaica Tourist Board
(800) 294-7687
www.visitjamaica.com

Departure tax: $27; may be included in cost of ticket

General consumption tax (in lieu of room tax): 16.5%

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico Tourism Co.
(800) 223-6530

Puerto Rico Conv. Bureau
(800) 875-4765
www.meetpuertorico.com

Departure tax: none

Hotel tax: 7%-9% plus 8%-15% service charge for some hotels

Trinidad & Tobago

Trinidad & Tobago Tourism
(800) 816-7541
www.gotrinidadandtobago.com

Departure Tax: $100TT (currently about US$16)

Hotel tax: 10% room tax plus 15% VAT, 10% service charge

U.S. Virgin Islands

USVI Dept. of Tourism
(800) 372-USVI4
VisitUSVI.com

Departure Tax: $3

Special Venues

  • Just east of Montego Bay, Jamaica, the Johnny Cash Estate was home to the country music legend for three decades. Today the historic home on Cinnamon Hill is available for group functions. Offering a view of the Caribbean as well as waterfalls and tropical gardens, the home can accommodate receptions of up to 350 guests. (876) 953-2650; www.hilton.com

  • Puerto Rico's Paseo de la Princesa is a historic walk around a penitentiary in the heart of Old San Juan. Today the venue along San Juan Bay is lined with trees and overlooks the bay, all backed by the 18th-century, 20-foot-thick stone wall that once surrounded the city. Evening functions at the site can be arranged for up to 300 people. (787) 721-2400; www.gotopuertorico.com

  • On Mexico's Riviera Maya, Xcaret has opened a new wine cellar available for small group functions. Vino de México, a $1 million facility, is designed to share the history of Mexican wines. The Sommelier's Office, stocked with the most exclusive vintages, is available for groups of 10, while the tasting room can accommodate groups of 25. 52 (984) 97-15200 ext. 410; www.xcaret.com