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Caribbean: Whats New
By Paris Permenter & John Bigley
July 1, 2003
Medical Meetings, 57
Volume 30; Number 5; ISSN Number 00931314
Although visitor numbers remain high for islands in proximity to the U.S. mainland, the tourism outlook across the Caribbean remains troublesome. "We are all recognizing that we are sailing through difficult waters," notes Jean Holder, secretary general of the Caribbean Tourist Organization.
To counter security fears, the tourism sector is working to attract groups. Many resorts and airlines are permitting rebooking without charge during "red alert" periods. The region is also working to market itself as a whole, a departure from each island working solo to attract visitors. Still, changes are not being made quickly enough in the eyes of many. "I get the feeling that there are a number of people out there who are longing for the good old days of Caribbean tourism," said Perry G. Christie, prime minister of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas and chairman of the Tourism Committee of CARICOM, at a recent tourism conference. "It is clear to me that the conditions that produced those good old days are gone, and gone forever."
But work goes on to improve and enhance the Caribbean product for meeting groups. Within the next two years, Puerto Rico will see 3,350 new hotel rooms, a $950 million investment. The Puerto Rico Convention Center, a 600,000-square-foot facility, is set to open in 2005. Aruba predicts the addition of 1,000 new hotel rooms in the next two to three years. The Dominican Republic and the Mexican Caribbean, most especially the Riviera Maya, have seen many new resorts open (see Going Up, page 62).
MY FAVORITE EVENT
"Aruba is home to one of the world's largest Carnivals," says Ruben D. Mannes, manager of De Palm DMC, a division of Aruba's De Palm Tours. But for groups that might have trouble getting flights and rooms during peak Carnival season, the challenge is how to bring the excitement of Carnival to events throughout the year.
De Palm Tours now celebrates year-round. The DMC creates a mini version of Aruba's Carnival, the fourth-largest in the world. The private events are staged in downtown Oranjestad at Daniel Leo Plaza. Mannes says the contagious beat of Carnival music gets attendees in the spirit. "We include the music, the costumes, dances, and a brass band."
The most recent corporate group had 300 attendees, although the carnival can be staged for larger groups. "The carnival incorporates a lot of color and decorations, and it's a fun way to bring Aruba's culture into a function."
St. Kitts Scenic Railway National Tour is the first luxury train tour in the Caribbean. Using rails built in 1912 to haul sugar cane to the sugar mills, 10 28-passenger, double-decker coaches depart from Basseterre. (869) 465-7263; www.StKittsScenicRailway.com
In Ocho Rios, the new $25 million Island Village is home to Reggae Xplosion, a museum tracing the history of Jamaican music. The 210-seat multimedia Cove Theater and the outdoor Reggae Yard, with a capacity of 3,000 people, offer more group options. (876) 974-8353; www.islandjamaica.com/islandvillage.htm
La Puntilla Arsenal, a former Spanish naval station, overlooks San Juan Bay. It can be used for dinner functions for up to 2,000 people. Attendees can enjoy changing art exhibitions and cultural activities. Contact Elsa Mosquera, (787) 723-2115.
THE PHANTOM PLANNER
Caribbean islands vary greatly in size and road conditions. Driving from the north coast of the Dominican Republic to the south coast is a day's event; on tiny Nevis, any location is a quick ride away. Explore inter-island flights for distant resort venues and resort areas in the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico.
Many resorts offer complimentary scuba courses. After instruction in the pool, novice divers can venture out on a shallow-water dive with the help of their instructor that same day.
More and more Caribbean resorts and destinations offer swimming or interacting with dolphins. These activities can make a great pre- or post-meeting event. For more adventurous attendees, shark scuba dives for certified divers have become increasingly popular.
To avoid duties on conference materials, work closely with local tourist boards to obtain customs duty waivers. In Mexico, you canhire customs brokers to expedite passage of conference materials.
Americans in British territories or British-affiliated Caribbean islands need to look carefully when crossing the street; cars there follow the British tradition of traveling on the left side of the road.
CONTACT THE CVB
Aruba Convention Bureau
(800) TO-ARUBA * Fax: (954) 767-0714 www.aruba.com
Departure Tax: $34.50; Hotel Tax: 18%
Bahamas Ministry of Tourism
(800) 823-3136 * Fax: (212) 753-6531 www.bahamas.com
Departure Tax: $15 in Nassau, $18 in Freeport; Hotel Tax: 8%
Bermuda Department of Tourism
(800) 223-6106 * Fax: (212) 983-5289 www.bermudatourism.com
Departure Tax: $20 (collected on ticket) Hotel Tax: 7.25%
British Virgin Islands Tourist Board
(800) 835-8530 * Fax: (213) 736-8935 www.bvitouristboard.com
Departure Tax: $10 ($8 by sea) Hotel Tax: 17%
Cancun Tourist Board
(800) 833-5254 * Fax: (202) 265-5930 www.gocancun.com
Departure Tax: $12 (included in ticket) Hotel Tax: 12%
Dominican Republic Tourist Board
(888) 374-6361 * Fax: (212) 588-1015 www.dominicana.com.do
Departure Tax: $10, plus $10 tourist card upon entry; Hotel Tax: 5%
Jamaica Tourist Board
(800) 29-GROUPS * Fax: (305) 666-5536 www.jamaicatravel.com
Departure Tax: JA$1,000 (about $27) General Consumption Tax: 15%
Puerto Rico Tourism Co. (800) 223-6530 Puerto Rico Convention Bureau (800) 875-4765 * Fax: (202) 331-0824 www.meetpuertorico.com
Departure Tax: none Hotel Tax: 9% (hotels without casinos); 11% (hotels with casinos)
St. Lucia Tourist Board
(800) 456-3984 * Fax: (212) 867-2795 www.stlucia.org
Departure Tax: $21; Hotel Tax: 18%
Sint Maarten Tourist Board (800) ST-MAARTEN *Fax: (212) 953-2145 www.st-maarten.com; Hotel Tax: 8%
French Government Tourist Board
(877) 956-1234 * Fax: (212) 260-8481 www.st-martin.org
Departure Tax: $20; Hotel Tax: 5%
USVI Department of Tourism
(800)372-USVI; (340) 774-8784 * Fax: (340) 774-4390 www.usvitourism.vi
Departure Tax: none; Hotel Tax: 8%
BAHAMAS * Expansion
Our Lucaya Beach and Golf Resort on Grand Bahama Island has joined Starwood Hotels and Resorts and is now the Westin at OurLucaya and the Sheraton at Our Lucaya. The resort offers 40,000 square feet of meeting space, with a 15,000-square-foot Grand Ballroom.
BERMUDA * Expansion
After a $64 million renovation, The Fairmont Southampton Princess has been renamed The Fairmont Southampton. A new lobby, a31,000-square-foot spa, and a redesigned mezzanine level with six meeting rooms now grace the property. The resort has also added Fairmont Gold, a hotel-within-a-hotel concept that features 88 guest rooms and a private lounge. The meeting facilities can accommodate as many as 1,500 attendees.
JAMAICA * New
The Ritz-Carlton Golf & Spa Resort opened in August 2000 near Montego Bay. The 427 guest rooms, many with panoramic views of the Caribbean, include 88 suites. The elegant conference facilities are neatly tucked away in their own wing and feature The Ritz-Carlton Ballroom. At 10,800 square feet, it can be divided into three sections.
Half Moon Golf, Tennis and Beach Club has added two dolphin interaction programs, including swimming with the dolphins.
MEXICO * New
In February, on Cancun's south shore, the 2,031-room Moon Palace Golf Resort debuted an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature Course. The course is already considered by some to be one of the Caribbean's best layouts. Guests at Moon Palace Golf Resort also have privileges at another 18-hole Palace Resorts course, the Golf Club at Playacar.
Set to open in November south of Cancun is Iberostar Hotels and Resorts' Paraiso Lindo Resort, adjacent to Iberostar Paraiso Beach and Iberostar Paraiso del Mar. Guests at the 446-room resort will enjoy a dine-around option at the properties' 14 restaurants and bars. A 15,683-square-foot conference center is scheduled to open in 2004, and a Pete Dye * designed, 18-hole championship golf course will open in 2005.
The Occidental Grand Flamenco Xcaret opened in July 2002 adjacent to Xcaret Park. The 769-room resort has added a spa offering ancient Mayan treatments. A convention center can accommodate up to 1,800.
On the Riviera Maya, Secrets Capri Resort and Spa is scheduled to open in November. The 288-room, all-inclusive resort will feature five restaurants, a spa, and 8,400 square feet of meeting space.
Reef Club Resorts will open Reef Club Coco Beach along the Riviera Maya in November. The 204-room, all-inclusive resort will include meeting facilities with seating for up to 600 theater-style.
The 147-room Paradisus Cozumel is now the Melia Cozumel All-Inclusive Beach Resort Golf & Country Club.
PUERTO RICO * New
The 313-room Inter-Continental Cayo Largo Resort is scheduled to open this fall with four restaurants, a European spa, and golf. There is a 9,408-square-foot ballroom, four breakout rooms, and two boardrooms.
The 156-room Wyndham Martineau Bay Resort and Spa opened in February on the island of Vieques. The oceanfront, plantation-style resort is set on 42 acres on the island's north shore and features a full-service spa and a dedicated facility for meetings and banquets of up to 176 people.
The 490-room Paradisus Puerto Rico Beach and Golf Resort, a Sol Melia property, the island's first all-inclusive property, is slated to open in January 2004 in Rio Grande, on Puerto Rico's northeastern coast. The resort will feature two golf courses, a casino, and a convention center with seven meeting rooms, including a grand ballroom for up to 800 people.
The 260-room Condado Vanderbilt will open in late 2004 in San Juan with 30,000 square feet of meeting space.
The Ponce Hilton and Casino has completed a renovation of its 153 guest rooms, including the addition of working desks. A full-service spa has been opened, and all 17 meeting rooms will be equipped with Internet service by year's end. A professional 18-hole golf course opened this spring; 20 of the planned 104 golf villas will open this fall.
The Caribe Hilton will add 264 rooms with an all-suite extension, bringing the total room count to more than 900, and a casino. Both will debut in 2004.
ST. KITTS * New
The 471-room St. Kitts Marriott Royal Beach Resort and Spa has opened with 12,000 square feet of meeting space, a spa, and a casino. A championship 18-hole golf course will also be available.
U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS * Renovation
Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas has added 48 guest rooms and suites, a restaurant, a pool, a fitness center, The Ritz-Carlton Club, and more. The $75 million project included renovation of the 152 guest rooms and suites.