Travel Weekly's Caribbean E-letter: Jan. 15, 2004 January 15, 2004 Share 1 -- THE LONG-AWAITED CARIBBEAN TOURISM RECOVERY, which stalled after the first quarter last year due to the war in Iraq, may actually happen this year, according to year-end figures and advance bookings tallied by industry leaders and hoteliers at the 24th annual Caribbean Hotel Association Marketplace in San Juan earlier this week. Simon Suarez, CHA president, reported that region-wide tourist arrivals through August showed a 6% growth over the same period in 2002. "Airlift to most destinations increased this winter; consumer confidence is up; the euro is strong; the economy is improving, and the weather is cold in the Northeast -- all these factors encourage travel to the Caribbean," Suarez said. IN OTHER CHA NEWS: • Puerto Rico hotel occupancies averaged 65% last year, close to the figures for 2000, "which was a real boom year," said Jose Suarez, head of the Puerto Rico Tourist Co. Meanwhile, Jorge Pescara, executive director of the Puerto Rico Convention Bureau, said that the new Convention Center, which is slated to open in late 2005, will host its first two large groups in March and May 2006. The venue for CHA's Marketplace event in 2006 "may well be the new convention center," according to CHA officials. • Rich Cortese, regional vice president, Caribbean, for Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, reported strong family and FIT bookings in 2003. He's hopeful that this year and next will see the return of corporate, group and incentive business. • The 228-room Hilton Santo Domingo opens in late spring in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, targeted at the corporate market, and the Hilton Barbados will open at the end of 2005 in Bridgetown, Barbados. • Tourist arrivals increased 20% and hotel occupancies 10% in 2003 in the Dominican Republic, according to its National Association of Hotels and Restaurants. The U.S. continued as the lead market for the destination, and Punta Cana was the most popular resort area. • SuperClubs' executive vice chairman John Issa reported "positive growth in our markets last year, and the economy seems to have stabilized. Tourism looks good for us."LODGEPODGE • Sandals teamed up with New York City's romantic Tavern on the Green restaurant in an alliance focused on Valentine's Day and matrimony. On Feb. 14, the first 25 couples to become engaged at the landmark restaurant will be treated to a four-night honeymoon at the Sandals resort of their choice in Antigua, the Bahamas, Jamaica or St. Lucia. To book a restaurant reservation, clients -- and agents -- can call (212) 873-3200. • In time for Valentine's Day, the Caribbean Hotel Association and many of its member hotels offer special romance packages, which are valid not only Feb. 14 but throughout the year. Details on all the programs are available at www.caribbeanhotels.org. • Peter Island's 13,000-square-foot Sea & Self Spa is slated to open Feb. 1 and the resort's two deluxe villa estates will open in March. Recently reopened are the four-bedroom Crow's Nest and three-bedroom Hawk's Nest villas, following a $1.8 million renovation. For details, visit www.peterisland.com.SUPERCLUBS' 2004 Ultimate Men of Hedonism male pin-up wall calendar gives new meaning to the term "eye candy." Travel agents can claim their complimentary copy by calling (800) GO-SUPER, Ext. 6620.ROLODEX • Marie Walker, who was named regional tourist board director for the Anguilla Tourist Board last month, will head up that destination's first U.S. office, according to Amelia Vanterpool Kubisch, tourism director. The office is expected to open in Armonk in Westchester County near New York City within a month. • Breezes Curacao named Adalberto Lugo general manager of the 341-room property.