NEW YORK -- The Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) will take aim at the business of competition in the global tourism industry when it hosts the 27th annual Caribbean Tourism Conference, to be held Oct. 17 to 20 at the Wyndham Aruba Beach Resort & Casino.

The conference will focus on the development of inventive programs that will help drive business to the Caribbean, according to Jean Holder, secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

The theme sends a message that sustaining tourism growth cannot be done without creating and investing in new business opportunities, Holder said.

CTO statistics indicate that the region had an 8% growth in tourist arrivals in first-quarter 2004, compared with the same period a year ago.

Holder said that the increase continues the progress made in 2003, when stayover arrivals increased by 7% during the winter over the same period in 2002.

Holder, however, warned that the Caribbean must not become complacent. Increased competition and the changing environment dictate that our tourism sector be dynamic, he said.

Aruba last hosted the conference in 1997, and island tourism officials view this years conference as an opportunity to showcase the destination and bring agents up to speed on new developments and attractions, according to Aruba Tourism Authority officials.

Free product tours for delegates will be offered on the last afternoon of the conference. There will be five tours covering sightseeing, shopping, snorkeling, and visits to the Archaeological Museum, the Aruba Aloe Museum & Factory and the Numismatic Museum of Aruba.

Pre- and post-tours of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao also will be offered from Oct. 14 to 17 and Oct. 21 to 24. The Aruba fams will include a mix of sightseeing and land and water sports. Agent rates range from $17.50 to $44.

Bonaire fams will include site inspections, sightseeing, kayaking, snorkeling and windsurfing. On Curacao, agents will inspect hotels, sightsee, swim and visit the Kura Hulanda Museum, Seaquarium Park and Dolphin Academy.

Agents attending the conference can earn Aruba Certification Credits (ACE) by taking part in a free four-hour ACE training program on Oct. 17. Niche-market workshops on incentive travel and special-needs travelers also will be offered.

Conference registration rates start at $295 per person, double, and $425, single. The price covers up to four nights accommodations with taxes and service charges, roundtrip transfers, business sessions, several meals and social events. Registration forms can be downloaded at www.onecaribbean.org.

American Airlines is offering a 75% discount on unrestricted coach fares for agents. For those coming from Miami, Dutch Caribbean Air has a roundtrip rate of $232.75, which must be purchased from the airlines office in Miami. For information, call (800) 327-7230.

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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