Travel Weekly's Caribbean E-letter: October 6, 2005

AIRLINES MADE THE NEWS this week. TransMeridian Airlines, based in Lithia Springs, Ga., with scheduled and charter service to more than a dozen U.S. cities, as well as Aguadilla and San Juan, Puerto Rico; Aruba; Punta Cana and Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic; and Cancun, Mexico, abruptly stopped flying at midnight Sept. 29, leaving hundreds of passengers stranded along its route structure. Vacation Express, which had a number of Caribbean programs with TransMeridian, set its contingency plan into action and turned to Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Pace Airlines, its charter partner from 2001 to 2004, as well as Sky King Airlines in Sacramento, Calif., and Pan Am, based in Portsmouth, N.H., to lease planes and reaccommodate its passengers. Gantt Cookson, Vacation Express vice-president of operations, said his firm re-accommodated 2,558 passengers between Sept. 30 and Oct. 3 and all flights operated. Cookson said that John Affeltranger, president of TransMeridian, told him that the carrier did not have the working capital to make it through that weekend and was filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection. Funjet Vacations, which works with nearly 20 scheduled and charter airlines, said that TransMeridians shutdown had limited impact on its domestic routes and no affect in the Caribbean.

MEANWHILE, THE GOVERNMENT of Trinidad & Tobago appropriated $250 million in its latest budget presentation to restructure troubled BWIA, its national carrier, as a viable regional airline, according to Conrad Enill, minister of finance. The restructuring move shelves plans for now for a possible merger with LIAT, a regional carrier based in Antigua. Informal merger discussions had taken place on and off for the past year or so. And, Caribbean Sun Airlines will launch eight weekly flights between San Juan and St. Eustatius (Statia) on Nov. 15. Flights will be daily except on Wednesdays and twice a day on Saturdays and Sundays aboard 37-seat Dash8 Q100 aircraft. The service also will link Statia with nearby St. Kitts with four weekly roundtrips. Half will call on Statia before continuing on to St. Kitts and ending in San Juan, while the remaining flights will first call on St. Kitts, continuing on to Statia and ending in San Juan. For details, visit www.flycsa.com.

HERES A FIRST: A Caribbean hotel is opening ahead of schedule. The 856-room, all-inclusive Riu Ocho Rios, the largest of 14 Riu properties in the Caribbean and its third in Jamaica, will open on the islands northern coast on Oct. 28, five days earlier than planned. Other Riu resorts are in the Dominican Republic (eight plus the Riu Palace Punta Cana, which opens next year), and one each in the Bahamas and in Aruba. There will be nine Riu resorts in Mexicos Playa del Carmen, including the Riu Palace Riviera Maya, opening in 2006, and in Cancun. For details, visit www.riu.com.

ROLODEX

" Recent appointments in several CTO member countries: Alice Hortencia Amafo has been named the new minister of tourism in Suriname; Yvor Nassief was appointed minister of tourism in Dominica; James Hepple has taken over as director of tourism in Trinidad and has been replaced as executive director of tourism in Curacao by Clifton Walle; and Janis Braithwaite-Edwards is now acting director of tourism in the British Virgin Islands.

" Bertha Castillo was named corporate spa director of AMResorts collection of 11 properties in the Dominican Republic and Mexico under the Secrets Resorts & Spas, Dreams Resorts & Spas and Sunscape Resorts & Spa brands.

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