A wind turbine park, a recompression chamber for dive visitors and a tourism awareness initiative whose slogan promotes the smiles of the people of Bonaire are helping propel the Dutch Caribbean island to a "solid" tourism year, according to Ronella Croes, director of Tourism Corporation Bonaire.

"Overall tourism to Bonaire showed significant increases in the first quarter of 2007. Growth is on our agenda, and we will add 600 new hotel rooms in the next few years to our inventory," Croes said.

Along with an increase in the hotel product comes a number of enhancements to the visitor experience, which will help increase repeat visitors, she said.

The tourism initiative, which will be implemented island-wide over the next three years, is designed "to educate the Bonairean community on the role it plays in the tourism product," according to the director. One of the components of the program already in place is the official slogan, "Smile. Bonaire is Sweet."

Goals of the campaign include educating residents about the island's dependence on tourism and the changes taking place within the tourism industry; the efforts undertaken on Bonaire in the areas of ecotourism, nature and marine preservation; and the importance of service with a smile.

Other island developments include:

" Construction of a wind-turbine park, the first step in a wind/biodiesel project that will provide Bonaire with 40% of its electricity needs by the end of 2008. By 2010, Bonaire hopes to harness all of its electrical energy from renewable sources.

" Funding for a new recompression chamber. The chamber is essential to Bonaire, which depends on the dive tourism market, according to Burney el Hage, minister of economics and labor. Although the chamber Bonaire has used for many years is functioning, "it is time to replace it while it still is in good working order," the minister said.

" Wireless Internet service, offering 15 hot spots where signals can be received on a laptop. The price is approximately $3 per hour or $28 for 15 hours.

" Renovations to the Touch, the on-site spa at the Divi Flamingo Beach Resort & Casino. The resort offers free Internet access throughout the property.

" Two weekly, nonstop Continental Airlines flights from Newark and a daily nonstop from Houston.

" The launch of a new Web site by Bonaire's national parks, at www.stinapa.org.

" Also in the news, Capt. Don Stewart, Bonaire's pioneer of marine conservation, recently celebrated the 45th anniversary of his arrival on Bonaire.

Stewart was presented with an award by Tourism Corporation Bonaire for his contributions to the island's tourism development.

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

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