Travel Weekly's Caribbean E-Letter: February 13, 2003 February 13, 2003 Share 1 -- PUERTO RICO TOURISM CO., in tandem with Virtuoso, will launch an initiative to market small (100 rooms or less), independently owned deluxe properties on the island. The Unique Collection-Luxury Hotels of Puerto Rico includes the Copamarina Beach Resort, Guanica; El Convento, and the Water Club, both in San Juan; Horned Dorset, Primavera, and Rincon Beach Resort, both in Rincon; Hix's Island House, and Inn on the Blue Horizon, both in Vieques; and Villa Montana, Isabela. Jose M. Suarez, PRTC's executive director, said the properties were selected by PRTC and a committee of island hoteliers. To be included in the collection, Suarez said, hotels must meet "certain criteria and standards. Virtuoso's marketing strengths guarantee promotional exposure for these hotels, some of which did not have the funds for marketing and promotion before this." The launch of the new collection, which takes place in March, "lends creditability to independent hotels and helps position Puerto Rico in the luxury market," Suarez added. Agents can book through Virtuoso or through the individual hotels. Further details are available at Puerto Rico's official Web site at www.gotopuertorico.com. A TOLL-FREE AGENT HOTLINE is another new wrinkle PRTC. It is staffed by tourism representatives seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. The representatives field inquiries from agents, ranging from requests for site inspections and promotional materials to information on new tourist sites and assistance in resolving commission payment problems. Any messages left after hours will receive a response within 24 hours, according to PRTC. The number is (800) 866-5829; additional details are outlined in the travel agent section of Puerto Rico's site.THE BEST OF BARBADOS extra-value promotion, launched in May, will be reintroduced by the Barbados Tourism Authority for spring and summer travel. The plan features a $200 air credit on seven-night hotel stays and five-night inclusive resort stays for bookings made by July 31 for stays from April 26 through Dec. 14. Early birds who book by March 1 for stays from March 1 through April 11 receive a $300 air credit. The program features a range of accommodations at 40 properties, a free first-night stay, daily breakfast, and discounts on island tours, submarine rides and golf. Bill Silvermintz, BTA's vp-marketing for the Americas, said last year's promotion "had proven to be the most successful travel promotion in the Caribbean. We are confident the relaunch will result in continued strong growth this year." For details, call the BTA at (800) 221-9831 or visit www.barbados.org.CONTINENTAL AIRLINES will reinstate 737 service three times a week between Houston and Aruba on June 12. The service was halted after 9/11. Also on June 12, CO is adding nonstop daily service between Newark and Port of Spain, Trinidad.LODGEPODGE • The 156-room Martineau Bay Resort & Spa in Vieques, Puerto Rico, will open for business Feb. 24, bringing to seven the number of Wyndham-branded properties in Puerto Rico and 12 in the Caribbean. Wyndham's Martineau Bay packages will offer airline transfers from San Juan to Vieques on MN Aviation, a small commuter line. Dallas-based Rosewood Hotels & Resorts formerly held a minority stake in the deluxe resort, which was built two years ago but never opened. • The nine-room Valentines Resort and Marina in Harbour Island in the Bahamas has been purchased by three Florida investors who plan to build a new waterfront restaurant, bar, dive shop and marina facilities as well as 46 new condo/hotel units in four separate two-story buildings. • The 107-room Rincon of the Seas-Grand Caribbean Hotel opened Feb. 8 in Rincon, Puerto Rico.