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Meeting News

Region Begins Recovery From Doldrums; Construction Aplenty Caribbean: The Business Place For The 21st Century

By Bob Curley

December 8, 2003
Copyright ©2003 Gale Group. All rights reserved.

When Puerto Rico's 505-room Hyatt Regency Cerromar Beach Resort and Casino announced it was shutting down in mid-July, it sent a disquieting tremor through an already-battered regional meetings industry.

But the closure wasn't a harbinger of more bad news. Up the coast at the Westin Rio Mar Beach Resort and Casino, 2003 has turned into the second-best year ever for the seven-year-old resort according to marketing director Drew Toth.

"The economy is coming back," said Toth, whose property includes 600 guestrooms and a 48,000-square-foot oceanfront conference center. In the case of the Westin Rio Mar, a concerted effort to bring in more group business has paid dividends.

Another Caribbean meetings giant, the Atlantis on Paradise Island in the Bahamas, also is growing despite tough times in the industry. Ground recently was broken on a $600 million expansion of the property, which will include a new 1,200-room hotel, 109 luxury villas, a new spa, retail shops, restaurants and a golf course.

Moreover, the project will include 50,000 square feet of new meeting space in addition to the existing 86,000-square-foot conference center on the property.

Kerzner International, the owner of Atlantis, also signaled that more expansion may be in store when it announced plans to acquire Club Med Bahamas, a 20-acre beachfront property adjacent to the Atlantis property. Ultimately, the Atlantis would like to have 4,000 to 5,000 rooms on Paradise Island, according to president Butch Kerzner.

The Caribbean continues to be attractive to the upscale end of the hotel market.

Eagerly anticipated is the opening of the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman, scheduled to debut in fall 2004. Located on Seven Mile Beach, the 365-room luxury resort will feature a 13,000-square foot meetings facility with a 9,130-square-foot ballroom--the largest of any hotel in the Cayman Islands as well as a Greg Norman-designed golf course, a spa, and seven restaurants and lounges.

Four Seasons says it will open its second hotel in the Caribbean, the Four Seasons Resort Great Exuma at Emerald Bay, by the end of this year. The new Bahamas property also will have a Greg Norman-designed golf course, as well as a tennis center, an open-air spa, a deep-water marina, 15,402 square feet of indoor meeting space and 12,000 square feet of outdoor function space.

Four Seasons also has upgraded its Nevis resort with the addition of a 12,000-squarefoot spa, where massages, facials, and other spa services are provided in private cottages surrounding an outdoor lounge.

Another exclusive hotel brand, Raffles International, will make its first foray into the Caribbean when the Raffles Resort Canouan Island opens in the Grenadines next summer. The 156-room hotel will include a 3,600-square-foot ballroom and a pair of smaller meeting rooms, plus an 18hole golf course, tennis, and a sophisticated, European-style casino.

Meeting Facilities Abound

Rare is the Caribbean property that opens today without some serious meeting space. For example, ground was broken recently on the new Fairmont Coco Beach Resort in Puerto Rico's Rio Grande region, a 416-room resort that will boast 30,000 square feet of meeting space, a large Willow Stream spa, and a casino.

The property, expected to open in late 2005, will be the luxury chain's fifth hotel in the region. Fairmont also has two hotels in Barbados and two in Bermuda.

Wyndham International also is ex panding its operations in Puerto Rico, managing the new Wyndham Martineau Bay Resort & Spa, which opened in February on Vieques Island. Wyndham's sixth Puerto Rican property has a full-service spa and fitness center, two restaurants, a bar and lounge, tennis courts, and a Meeting House for use by groups of up to 176.

The all-new Hilton Barbados, now rising on the site of the old Barbados Hilton, will have a 10,000-square-foot conference center with a 6,200-squareloot ballroom and three meeting rooms that can be split into six breakouts. The $90 million. 353 room oceanfront hotel will debut Hilton's signature Relaxation Rooms, featuring hydro-spa baths, aromatherapy and bath oils, a bottle of white wine upon arrival, and yoga DVDs and CDs.

Marriott continues to ramp up operations at its St. Kitts resort, which opened this winter.

The 648-room property's 12,000square-lSot conference center, pools, tennis facility, and some restaurants are currently open.

Coming in late 2003 or early 2004: a new seafood restaurant, steakhouse nightclub, and nine holes at the new Royal St. Kitts Golf Club (the front nine won't open until late 2004 or early 2005).

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