GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands -- Expanded airlift, hotel developments and a year-round agent incentive program are expected to boost Cayman Islands high season visitor numbers, according to tourism officials.

Already this year, the visitor numbers look very good, back to pre-9/11 levels, said McKeeva Bush, minister of tourism.

June tourism figures released by the Department of Tourism indicate a 9% increase in air arrivals and a 10.4% increase in cruise arrivals compared with June 2003. Both air and cruise arrival figures for every month of 2004 have surpassed every month of 2003.

For the first half of the year, air arrivals increased 12.7% over 2003, to a total of 181,254 stayover visitors. Cruise volume for the first six months came to 1.06 million passengers, more than the number that arrived by sea during all of 2000.

On the airlift front, Cayman Airways will expand its network with the launch of 737 nonstop, weekend service from Boston to Grand Cayman on Oct. 29. Through April 2, flights will depart Boston on Saturdays and Sundays at 8:45 a.m., arriving in Grand Cayman at 1:05 p.m.

The introductory fare starts at $299 roundtrip to Grand Cayman and at $349 roundtrip to Cayman Brac and Little Cayman (with connections through Grand Cayman).

Developments on the hotel scene include the November reopening of the renovated, 28-unit Meridian resort on Seven Mile Beach. New facilities include a pool and a fitness center.

The 343-room Westin Casuarina Resort & Spa on Seven Mile Beach completed a $5 million expansion and renovation project that included the addition of a 7,000-square-foot spa and a 5,500-square-foot ballroom.

The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, a $400 million project now scheduled for a December opening, reported a lot of interest when its reservations lines opened last month, according to a hotel official.

The 144-acre property, which stretches from Seven Mile Beach across to North Sound, encompasses 365 rooms and suites and 69 private condominiums.

Expanded airlift and new and renovated properties give agents more reasons than ever before to sell the Cayman Islands, a tourism official said.

An added incentive could be the Travel Agent Rewards Program, which rewards the top-selling agent each month with a $500 bonus and another $500 for the agency. The next nine highest-selling agents win $100 and another $100 for their agencies.

Through June, Cayman Rewards paid out more than $13,000 to 45 agents and agencies. Since the program started two years ago, more than $50,000 has been paid out.

Travel Agent Appreciation rates, which offer discounted prices on a space-available basis, are in effect at 13 resorts.  These comprise the Reef, Turtle Nest Inn, the Retreat, Hyatt Regency Grand Cayman, Plantana Condominiums, Sunset House, Cobalt Coast, Comfort Suites, Treasure Island Resort, Island Pines, Indies Suites, Victoria House and the Westin Casuarina Resort & Spa.

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

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