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 in October 2005 by Hurricane Wilma. Recovery is moving along, however, and Cancun announced an early completion of its $22 million beach restoration project. Construction has begun on the second runway and a third terminal at the Cancun airport.
Although some of the region's property improvements are a direct result of the storms, other enhancements can also be found. 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, making it the largest such park in the Caribbean. The island is also undergoing a $34 million expansion at Queen Beatrix International Airport. Sint Maarten and Curaçao recently completed new terminal facilities while Montego Bay, Jamaica; and San Juan, Puerto Rico, are undergoing extensive airport expansions, a response to growing airlift throughout the region.
At press time, the law requiring air passengers returning to the United States from the Caribbean to present valid passports had been delayed slightly. The earliest date in can take effect is now January 17, 2007. The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, originally scheduled for implementation in 2006, will require that all air passengers have a passport upon return. This change will not include Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Cruise passengers returning from the region will have an extended period, possibly until mid-2009, to meet the passport requirements.
The OCCIDENTAL GRAND ARUBA RESORT, a luxury all-inclusive, has opened. The former Allegro resort has undergone $24 million in renovations and features 391 rooms and suites, seven restaurants, a spa, and a 50-room boutique-style hotel within the resort.
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 WYNDHAM ARUBA is being reflagged the WESTIN ARUBA. After several million dollars in upgrades, the relaunch takes places this month. The resort has more than 9,000 square feet of meeting space.
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.
ATLANTIC, PARADISE ISLAND is undergoing a $1 billion expansion, to be complete in 2007. The hotel will add 1,00 rooms and about 100,000 square feet to the Atlantis Conference Center.
Four miles from Nassaus, 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.
This summer, CAMBRIDGE BEACHES will complete a $2.5 million pool renovation, adding Bermuda's first multilevel pool with waterfalls. The 94-room cottage colony resort is also adding two pool suites, each with infinity-edge plunge pools and ocean views.
WYNDHAM BERMUDA RESORT & SPA-SOUTHAMPTON BEACH will be closed through October 2009 for extensive renovations and a redevelopment of the property.
Ask the CVB
THE RITZ-CARLTON, GRAND CAYMAN opened in December 2005 with 365 guest rooms and more than 13,000 square feet of 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 WESTIN ROCO KI BEACH & GOLF RESORT is under construction in Punta Cana. The 315-room resort will include 56 condominium suites and 20 bungalows, as well as 20,000 square feet of meeting space. The resort is scheduled to open December 1, 2007.
COUPLES RESORTS will add a fifth all-inclusive resort in Jamaica. The 370-room Trelawny resort is estimated to be a $57 million investment and will be built on 38 acres. The construction is estimated to be completed in 2008.
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.
BARCELÓ RIVIERA MAYA BEACH RESORT has opened a freestanding conference center.
JW MARRIOTT CANCUN RESORT AND SPA has reopened after extensive renovations after Hurricane Wilma. The 448-room resort offers 20,300 square feet of flexible space for group use. The resort also includes a 35,000-square-foot Mayan-inspired spa.
The 452-room CASAMAGNA MARRIOTT CANCUN RESORT reopened in September after extensive renovations. The resort offers 10,980 square feet of space for group use. Other amenities include a year-round, supervised children's program and a spa.
The new IBEROSTAR GRAND HOTEL PARAISO is scheduled to open this month on the Riviera Maya. The 312-room, adults-only all-inclusive is adjacent to the CONVENTION CENTER AT IBEROSTAR PLAYA PARAISO RESORT with 15,000 square feet of meeting space.
The 365-room RITZ-CARLTON, CANCUN reopened in September after $15 million in renovations. The project included the addition of the Cliff Drysdale Tennis Center, offering round robin tournaments and corporate events. The resort offers 27,000 square feet of meeting and function space.
The 311-room WESTIN ST. MAARTEN DAWN BEACH RESORT & SPA is under construction and scheduled to open late this month with more than 20,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor flexible meeting space, including a 10,000-square-foot ballroom.
The WESTIN LE PARADIS ST. LUCIA BEACH & GOLF RESORT is scheduled to open April 2008. Spanning nearly 600 acres and offering more than a mile of coastline, the 232-room resort will offer more than 30,000 square feet of function space.
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 DEPARTMENT OF TOURISM
(345) 949-0623, (305) 599-9033
CURAÇAO TOURIST BOARD
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC TOURIST BOARD
(888) 374-6361, (212) 588-1012
JAMAICA TOURIST BOARD
PUERTO RICO CONVENTION BUREAU
(800) 875-4765, (202) 457-9262
SINT MAARTEN TOURIST BOARD
(800) ST-MAARTEN, (212) 953-2084
U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS DEPARTMENT OF TOURISM
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 number of Caribbean resorts now 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 U.S. citizens visiting the U.S. Virgin Islands, several popular day cruises take groups to the nearby British Virgin Islands, which necessitates a passport.
The Islands of the Bahamas has a Tax Information Exchange Agreement with the United States, so meetings held there 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 United States.
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 parades and galas. Events can be held at the parade lawns, with a backdrop of the Clocktower Building. Upstairs, two rooms can host receptions for 400 guests. (441) 234-1709, www.bermudatourism.com
Near Ocho Rios, JAMAICA, CRANBROOK FLOWER FOREST AND RIVER HEAD ADVENTURE TRAIL offers four lawns for events in the 130-acre gardens. (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 can dine beneath a tiled roof; 250 guests can be accommodated on the tented lawn. A new terrace can be used for up to 175 attendees. (800) 762-1458. www.haciendasiestaalegre.com