CTO opening ceremonyMARIGOT, St. Martin -- While luxury travel is on the rebound, leisure travel is posting gains, and the 2011 year-over-year visitor arrivals to the Caribbean reflect a solid across-the-board increase, challenges still remain from the after-effects of the global recession.

"Numbers are up but per-visitor expenditures are down, the length of stay is shrinking, and to prosper we must provide value for travel, affordable airlift and cost-effective marketing strategies," said Ricky Skerritt, chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, addressing delegates at CTO's first State of the Industry Conference in St. Martin.

Skerritt said that the conference theme, "Wining in a competitive environment," is "appropriate, given that the region is competing more and more with other destinations around the world."

Keith WilliamsKeith Williams, CEO of British Airways, said that "the global recession continues to cast shadows on any growth in tourism, and everything depends on improving the quality of the travel product for our customers."

Williams called on Caribbean tourism officials to continue their aggressive battle against the Air Passenger Duty tiered tax on air travel from the U.K, "which is further dampening down demand to the Caribbean and, in turn, affected destination tourism numbers and revenues."

The Caribbean is one of JetBlue's most profitable regions, according to Chad Meyerson, director of global sales.

"More than 25% of our capacity is dedicated to the Caribbean and Latin America, and this will only continue to grow. Currently we serve 23 destinations in the region with a concentration in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic," Meyerson said.

The carrier will launch daily flights from San Juan to St. Maarten and from San Juan to St. Thomas, both on Nov. 17.

Winter season forecasts look better this year than a year ago at the same time, but "we hope the demand will hold up. The booking window still is short," Meyerson said.

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