Winning in a competitive environment not only is the theme of an upcoming Caribbean conference but also the goal of tourism officials across the region.

"The tourism business is fiercely competitive, and the Caribbean has to win," said Hugh Riley, secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, sponsor of the inaugural State of the Industry Conference, set to take place Sept. 14 to 17 in St. Martin.

The stakes are high, especially given the tumult in the U.S. stock market and the recession's lingering effects on investment, development and travel, Riley said.

The conference aims to take a critical look at the state of Caribbean tourism and examine ways to beat the global recession, especially in light of CTO visitor numbers that fluctuate by destination and time of year.

Conference attendees, who will include tourism ministers, commissioners, directors of tourism, on-island travel partners and approximately 35 travel agents from various CTO chapters in the U.S., are looking for answers as to what comes next, how to spot opportunities to move forward, where the new markets lie and how to reach them, Riley said.

Keith Williams, CEO of British Airways, will examine the state of the industry from a global perspective in his keynote address.

Williams' speech follows last year's address by Willie Walsh, former British Airways CEO, at CTO's Leadership Conference in Barbados in October 2010.

"British Airways has reinforced its position as a truly committed partner in the Caribbean with the introduction of new routes and frequencies," Riley said. "We are keen to know how we can support the airline to bring further benefits to the region."

A session that examines the hurdles facing intra-Caribbean travel will feature speeches by Ian Burns, CEO of low-fare, Barbados-based carrier RedJet, and Brian Challenger, CEO of regional carrier Liat.

Best practices to tap into emerging markets and launch initiatives targeting these markets will be explored in a session that includes Vijay Bathija, senior director of network planning, Air Canada; Chad Meyerson, director of global sales for JetBlue; and Edmund Rose, director of commercial and revenue planning, Virgin Atlantic.

Vincent Vanderpool Wallace, the Bahamas' minister of tourism and aviation, will moderate a panel focused on successful strategies for public-private partnerships.

Representatives from American Express and Virtuoso Luxury Travel Group as well as a five-star hotel owner and a megayacht operator will discuss the effective use of social media and give tips on how to tap the affluent travel market.

Headquarters hotel and venue for all conference meetings and sessions is Le Domaine de Lonvilliers in Anse Marcel, St. Martin.

The new State of the Industry Conference is part two of a two-conference CTO plan that began with the first Leadership Strategy Conference last fall in Barbados. The two events now will rotate every other year, with 2012 marking the second leadership confab.

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