Despite a softening in U.S. travel to the Caribbean in the first half of 2007, stayover visitor arrivals did rebound in the second half of the year for many destinations, a trend which has continued into 2008.

Hoteliers and tourism officials, buoyed by a strong start in January, are optimistic that the trend will continue regardless of challenges facing the U.S. economy. Those challenges include an increase in fuel costs, the subprime lending meltdown, the related collapse of the U.S. housing market and the weakened U.S. dollar.

The record-breaking attendance at the recent Caribbean Hotel Association’s Marketplace 2008 event in Nassau attested to the strong interest in the region from representatives across the board in the public and private sectors, including buyers, suppliers and tourism and government officials.

However, one message was very clear: The Caribbean cannot ignore the worldwide competition for the U.S. travel dollar.

In his keynote address at Marketplace, Hubert Ingraham, prime minister of the Bahamas, cautioned delegates that “the traveling public has an increased buffet from which to select their destination of choice.”

Beach destinations are no longer the sole province of venues in the Americas, Ingraham said, citing the Pacific and Middle East regions as strong competitors.

“It is critically important that hotel owners and operators ensure that our hotels are equipped with the amenities demanded and expected by visitors and that guests leave our properties believing that they have received good value for their money,” he said.

Compounding the competitive threat from other destinations, said Ingraham, are other issues that affect the visitor experience in the Caribbean, including safety, security, transportation and communication.

On a larger scale, Caribbean tourism is feeling the impact of global warming and climate change.

“These phenomena are a concern because they impact weather patterns and the strength and frequency of storms as well as increase water temperatures, which causes coral bleaching that threatens the sustainability of our beaches and dive sites,” Ingraham said.

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

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