Travel Weekly's Caribbean E-letter: April 21, 2005

JAMAICAN AUTHORITIES will impose new tourism enhancement fees on all arriving air and cruise passengers, effective May 1. The new fees - $10 per air traveler and $2 per cruise passenger - will be levied in addition to the countrys existing $20 departure tax, and likewise will be rolled into air and cruise ticket prices. Jamaican tourism minister Aloun Ndombet-Assamba said that the new fees, first proposed last spring, will raise much-needed capital for the maintenance and improvement of tourism infrastructure. Unlike departure tax monies, which end up in general-use government funds, the tourism enhancement fees will be deposited in a tourism-specific account. Addressing complaints about an additional financial burden on Jamaicas tourism industry, Ndombet-Assamba said the government is not taxing the hoteliers, attraction owners or the Jamaican people. Jamaican flag carrier Air Jamaica will begin adding the new tax to its airfares as of April 26.

ALTHOUGH ONLY 39% - approximately 1,200 hotel rooms - of the total room inventory of more than 3,700 hotel rooms on Grand Cayman is back on line, the destination has done much in the seven months since Hurricane Ivan to rebuild and move forward, according to McKeeva Bush, minister of tourism. Bush addressed delegates to the annual Cayman Islands Tourism Exchange. New attractions soon to open include Boatswains Beach Turtle Farm in January, which will feature 14,000 turtles, a 1.3 million-gallon saltwater lagoon, a predator tank, an aviary and an historic recreation of a Cayman street with vendors. The entire complex represents an investment of $46 million, according to Ken Hyde, director.

OPENING DATES for several more Grand Cayman hotels include a November soft opening for group business at the Ritz-Carlton and a formal debut for leisure travelers in January; the Grand Cayman Marriott, June 1, following a $15 million renovation; Comfort Suites and the Wyndham Sunshine Suites, next month. Meanwhile, the Mandarin Oriental hotel firm will debut in Grand Cayman within the next two years, marking the firms entry into the Caribbean region. The new hotel will be located on Grand Caymans East End, north of the existing Reef Resort, which opens 36 new suites in late summer.

MARKETING STRATEGIES unveiled at the 12th annual Virgin Islands Destination Symposium in St. Thomas included a new ad campaign reflecting the diversity of the three islands, a separate campaign and tagline branding St. Croixs culture and history, and a renewed focus on niche markets - especially mega and charter yachts. Hoteliers reported solid bookings this past winter; for example, Graeme Davis, general manager of the Westin St. John, said his occupancies ran at the 96% level from December through March. Pamela Richards, tourism commissioner, said the upcoming Summer Super Saver packages "will keep the momentum going." Features will include an air credit and shopping discounts. Davis, also chairman of the board of the US Virgin Islands Hotel & Tourism Association, predicted an average rate increase of 10% next winter "at most properties."

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