MIAMI -- Regional marketing, often a discussion topic when officials from two or more Caribbean islands convene, reappeared when representatives from six Leeward Islands destinations said they plan to launch a subregional marketing and promotional association.

Anguilla, Saba, St. Barts, St. Eustatius, St. Martin and St. Maarten have six different experiences for visitors, but we are joining together to reposition ourselves as one destination for marketing purposes, said Regina LaBega, director of tourism for St. Maarten.

The six-for-one promotions will include details on day trips to neighboring islands, information on how to travel between the destinations and vacation packages that will com- bine two or more islands.

In a presentation before tour operators and airlines serving the region, representatives from each of the six destinations outlined basic information for each island, including visitor statistics and resort and airlift developments.

Although the association will not launch until mid-2005, island representatives already have begun amassing feedback from partners to help with promotion and funding.

Bernadette Davis, director of the Office of Tourism for St. Martin, said that partners from  the public and private sectors will provide funding.

We are seeking external funding next year from our various governments, Davis said. Although each island will continue its own marketing and tourism efforts, the new subregional association will be a separate organization to help increase our presence and enhance the Leeward Islands subregion as a whole.

The six islands already have agreed to a percentage of funding that will come from each island, based on visitor arrival figures for 2003.

Tour operators attending the session seemed to be enthusiastic about the new organization.

Mark Benson, director of Caribbean marketing for Gogo Worldwide Vacations, echoed the views of his colleagues when he said he was keen to see what this new association translates into, especially for operators.

Suggestions from attendees included the bundling of ferry tickets for day trips, especially from St. Martin/St. Maarten, to make interisland travel easier for visitors.

Operators also requested that hotel contracts for the high season and future rates be received well in advance of the season startup.

We tend to get them late, and it makes it harder to promote and sell the properties, said Laura Veglia, regional director of market management for Expedia.com.

Emil Lee, president of the St. Maarten Hospitality & Trade Association, said, We will start with the bundling of packages for interisland travel, combining a stay on two or more islands during the same trip. Ease of ferry and air travel within the region also should be an important component of our overall promotion.

Lee said that none of our products are competitive.

By coming together, we can enhance the visitor experience in new ways. We will have more of an impact as a subregion than as a single destination. Thats the impetus behind all this, said Lee.

Although a formal name has not been selected, the group will have its own Web site, in addition to the individual island sites now in operation, as well as a group coordinator.

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

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