NASSAU -- Despite a softening in the U.S. market in travel to the Caribbean region in the first half of 2007, stayover visitor arrival figures 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 to the new year, are optimistic that the trend will continue, regardless of challenges facing the U.S. economy that include an increase in fuel costs, the sub-prime meltdown, the related collapse of the U.S. housing market and the weakened U.S. dollar.

The record-breaking attendance at the Caribbean Hotel Association's Marketplace 2008, held here this week, 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 region cannot ignore the competition that exists on a worldwide basis for the U.S. travel dollar.

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

Land-based beach vacation destinations are no longer the sole province of venues in the Americas, Ingrham said, citing the Pacific and Middle East regions as strong competitors for the U.S. travel market.

"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 are additional issues that impact the visitor experience in the Caribbean. According to Ingraham, these issues include safety and security; transportation and communication; human resource development, research and information; and promotion and marketing.

On a larger scale, land-based tourism properties are feeling the impact of global warming and climate change on the industry.

"These phenomena are a cause for concern not only because of their impact on weather patterns and the strength and frequency of storms, but also because increased temperatures of our waters cause coral bleaching that threatens the sustainability of our beaches and dive sites," Ingraham noted.

Marketplace 2009 will be hosted by St. Lucia, marking the first time that the annual event will be held on the island.

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

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