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Caribbean Ready For A Sunny Tourist Season

By Doreen Hemlock
Business Writer

January 24, 2005
Copyright © 2005 SO FL SUN-SENTINEL. All rights reserved. 

The peak winter tourist season is under way in the Caribbean, and prospects for business are sunny this year.

A strong euro and pound sterling are encouraging visits by Europeans, while solid growth in the U.S. economy has Americans traveling more.

Air service to the islands is up too, surpassing levels before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, executives said.

Furthermore, few hotels remain out of service after the harsh 2004 hurricane season, with tens of thousands of rooms still welcoming winter guests across the island chain.

It all adds up to bright news for the Caribbean, the world's most tourism-dependent region, where nearly one in four residents works in tourism.

Here's an update on some Caribbean tourism news:

Hotels in Bahamas: The developers of the Caribbean's largest resort, the 2,317-unit Atlantis on Paradise Island, have committed to invest more than $1 billion in the Bahamas to expand their offerings.

Kerzner International Ltd., which operates an office in Fort Lauderdale, said it plans to develop a 600-unit all-suite hotel and 400-unit condo hotel near Atlantis. That's instead of a 1,500-room tower initially planned to expand Atlantis.

Construction of the all-suite venture is to begin in April and should be mostly done by December next year. The project aims to attract a more affluent, gaming clientele to the Paradise Island area, said chief executive officer Butch Kerzner.

Pre-sales in the 400-unit condo hotel are to start this quarter. The $200 million project is being developed with Turnberry Associates, which also has developed condo ventures in South Florida.

Also featured in the $1 billion-plus expansion: a Nobu restaurant, developed by noted Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa and partner Robert DeNiro; more water attractions; meeting and convention space; a marina complex; and a golf course on Athol Island.

Kerzner also plans an 88-unit ultra-luxury condo project at Ocean Club Estates, the residential development adjacent to the Ocean Club Golf Course. Groundbreaking is expected early this year.

Cruises in Grenada: The Grenada government has debuted a new cruise ship complex in its capital of St. George's, built to handle the larger ships now being deployed by Carnival, Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines.

The complex has facilities for 22 tour buses, 36 taxis and 30 vendors, with stores to be developed soon, officials said.

Grenada is banking on cruises to help its economy recover from severe damage inflicted by Hurricane Ivan in September. The eastern Caribbean nation hosted 230,000 cruise passengers in 2003.

Tourism in Cuba: Cuba set a new record for tourist arrivals in 2004: topping 2 million visitors, up 8 percent from the previous year, officials said.

And the government predicts another record this year: 2.3 million arrivals.

Canada is the top source of visitors, followed by nations in Europe, especially Italy, France, Germany and Spain.

U.S. travel to Cuba is severely limited under Washington's 4-decade-old embargo against the communist-led nation.

Tourism now accounts for roughly 41 percent of Cuba's foreign exchange earnings. That's up from 4 percent in 1990, before the end of Soviet largesse to Cuba forced Havana to turn to tourism for foreign currency.

All-inclusive resort in Puerto Rico: Long popular in Cuba, Dominican Republic and Jamaica, the all-inclusive resort -- with lodging, food, water sports, entertainment and other amenities prepaid -- has come to the U.S. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico for its first full winter season.

Spain-based Sol-Melia has opened its long-awaited 500-suite, $150 million Paradisus Puerto Rico resort featuring two golf courses, a spa, casino and six restaurants. The resort opened in stages in 2004.

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