Here's a good-news, good-news story: the recent downturn in the U.S. economy is not impacting investors' interest in the Caribbean, according to Alec Sanguinetti, director general and CEO of the Caribbean Hotel Association, who addressed the 520 delegates attending the 12th annual Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Investment Conference at the Hyatt Regency Trinidad in Port of Spain.

In fact, more than $100 billion currently is earmarked for improvements and expansions at tourism facilities and infrastructure in the region, according to Sanguinetti.

"Business on the books for the next 12 to 18 months throughout the region continues to be healthy; advance bookings remain strong, and interest in meetings and conferences is at an all-time high," he said.

Patrick Manning, prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, said that tourism represents more than 30% of the Gross Domestic Product of the Caribbean region and provides 3 million jobs.

"International competition for tourist dollars is strong and growing all the time. We must rise to the challenge by developing a multi-faceted product that adds to the traditional sun, sand, sea formula," Manning said.

Peter Odle, CHA president, announced the formation of the Caribbean Tourism Investment Fund, designed to broaden financing options for small and medium-sized hotels and tourism-related enterprises that want to expand, renovate or build.

"The fund will target owners and operators of hotels up to 150 rooms as well as other entities with proven track records and robust business plans," Odle said.

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

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