Visitors to the Turks and Caicos this winter will find several additions on the Providenciales skyline as well as packages and incentives to sweeten the deal and help cushion the impact of a failing economy.

Winter season business is taking a hit right now, with many properties, from budget to luxury, reporting a downturn in advance bookings of up to 50% compared with the same time last year.

Although peak season rates haven't dropped, minimum-stay requirements and blackout dates have been eliminated at many resorts. Value-added features, such as free nights, a massage or a tour, appear to be the rule rather than the exception. 

Wayne Garland, executive chairman of the Turks and Caicos Tourist Board, said that "hoteliers project last-minute bookings. We expect a slight upswing now that U.S. elections are over."

The luxury market fills a lot of rooms on Providenciales. New offerings this year and the debut of several more in 2009 and 2010, coupled with increased airlift from some U.S. gateways, "signal that investors and airlines are confident that our destination can fill seats and beds," Garland said.

The 22-acre, 115-room Seven Stars Resort on 12-mile-long Grace Bay beach opened in July. The owners appear to have spent their $100 million well, with solid construction and an emphasis on staffing.

Jeffrey Boland, director of operations, said the resort had no prior winter season as a basis of comparison, but "we know that the economic situation already has impacted us. We've seen a slowdown in bookings."

Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort & Spa will debut its $125 million, 162-suite Italian Village expansion project on Jan. 20.

Butch Stewart, chairman of Sandals Resorts, said that the hotel company "projects a strong winter at all our properties, due to the support of our travel agent partners."

Opening this month is Leeward Resort & Marina, alongside Nikki Beach Resort on Provo's northeastern tip. The $400 million yacht destination resort includes a 130-slip marina; a beach; swimming pools and hydra spas; a fitness center; restaurants; shops; and the private Turks & Caicos Yacht Club.

Joining the luxe roster in February is the Estate at Grace Bay, an extension of the Grace Bay Club that includes 22 residences, housed in two six-story buildings with two units per floor. Four units remain on the market, with prices from $3.5 million each.

Mandarin Oriental Dellis Cay, scheduled to open in late 2009 on Provo's southwestern coast, will include 25 hotel suites, 17 villas, 78 apartments and a 22,000-square-foot spa. Unit prices start at $1.2 million.

The Meridian Club, a private island retreat on Pine Cay, renovated its 12 guest rooms and added four boats for guest transport and snorkeling.

Airlift continues to grow, even as other destination see cutbacks in service. "US Airways is boosting its lift to Turks and Caicos from Boston, Charlotte and Philadelphia," said Ralph Higgs, director of tourism marketing at the tourist board.

Delta also will up its flights from Atlanta to Provo beginning Dec. 20.


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