In a refreshing switch from the norm, Dominicas new minister of tourism, industry and private sector relations does not come from the ranks of local politicians or government officials.

Yvor Nassief, who took office this fall, worked in the private sector on Dominica for nearly 20 years in executive level positions in the manufacturing, hotel, financial services and real estate industries.

Appearing at his first Caribbean Tourism Conference in St. Thomas in late October, Nassief said that despite his reputation as a severe critic of the government, the prime minister asked him to take on the ministerial post the morning after the islands most recent elections.

I accepted his offer because I think a difference can be made, he said.

Nassief, who refused a salary for the position, described Dominica as an untouched destination facing the challenge of encouraging more travelers to visit but, at the same time, keeping our island in this untouchable state.

Dominica cannot be what its neighbors are -- and doesnt want to be, he said.

I want to remove blockages so that we can have sustainable ecotourism in all aspects of island life.

More airlift

A number of tourism initiatives cur- rently on the table may aid Nassief in achieving his vision.

Air access, while always a challenge, will get a boost when Caribbean Sun Airlines introduces daily service Dec. 15 from San Juan to Dominica.

The flight will depart San Juan at 2:50 p.m., arrive in Dominica at 4:30 p.m. and then continue on to Barbados. The return flight departs Dominica at 12:25 p.m. and arrives in San Juan at 2:05 p.m.

Another boost to Dominicas airlift will occur when the island airports runway extension and installation of landing lights are completed in early 2007.

The [introduction] of night landings will help us with our visitors coming from the [U.S.] Midwest, Nassief said. They will be able to get to Dominica without having to overnight en route.

Dominica, the first country to receive benchmark designation from the Green Globe 21 ecotourism organization a year ago, is now on the road to complete certification, according to Nassief.

In addition to the national designation, five hotels on Dominica also achieved successful benchmarking status from Green Globe 21. The designees are the 3 Rivers Eco-Lodge, Tamarind Tree Hotel, Garraway Tree Hotel, Fort Young Hotel and Hummingbird Inn.

This designation underscores our commitment to sustainable tourism and further positions Dominica as a world-class destination, Nassief said.

The benefits to the island in terms of protecting its natural beauty and environment, reducing costs and attracting more visitors are immeasurable.

And attracting more visitors is on the ministers priority list. Stayover arrivals last year totalled 65,000 visitors, while cruise passengers numbered close to 300,000.

The U.S. is Dominicas fastest-growing market, especially in the dive segment.

Inn development

Our target in five years is 100,000 stayover visitors per year, Nassief said.

Our hotel occupancies now average about 50%, and we all would like to see this rise. Dominica is still a long way from being overcrowded.

And there will be plenty of reasons to visit Dominica over the next five years.

Projects include the opening of the Waitukubuli Trails system, a network of routes and paths used by former slaves, and the introduction of a Carib Indian model village where visitors can view the indigenous islander way of life.

The setting will be a Carib Indian village with a Carib council, Carib inhabitants and Carib industry at work.

Recent hotel developments include:

" Jungle Bay Resort and Spa: This 50-cottage, 55-acre property opened earlier this year as Dominicas first wellness and adventure resort. It borders Morne Trois Pitons National Park, the only Unesco World Heritage site in the eastern Caribbean.

More than half of the resorts cottages, which are perched on wooden posts and resemble birds nests in a forest canopy, were built by unemployed farmers displaced by problems in the islands banana industry. The farmers used wood and discarded stone from on old mining quarry.

Owner and developer Sam Raphael said Jungle Bay is an example of how we can develop guest accommodations and not adversely impact the natural environment. Rates start at $219 per night, double. For details, visit www.junglebaydominica.com.

" Fort Young Hotel: This hotel in Roseau renovated its 53 rooms and suites, expanded its fitness center and added a pool. Visit www.fortyounghotel.com for winter rates.

" Castaways Beach Hotel and Resort: The islands first hotel, built in 1961 and still the only beachfront property, is renovating, upgrading and converting some rooms into studio apartments for long-stay guests. For information, visit www.castaways-dominica.com.

" Habitation Chabert: Set in a 17th-century stone mansion on the Pagua River, this inn opened a year ago boasting Creole and French cuisine, a garden, a pool and Internet service. Winter rates start at $200 per night, double. Visit www.habitationchabert.com.

" Roseau Valley Hotel: Recent renovations to this 11-room property include installation of wireless Internet service, new wood flooring and colorful furnishings. The hotel is within hiking distance of many scenic spots. For more information or to book, visit www.roseauvalleyhotel.com.

" Beau Rive: The restaurant at this boutique hotel, on a hillside 240 feet above the Caribbean Sea, offers a variety of chocolate desserts made from locally grown cocoa. Hotel facilities include a rooftop terrace for dining, a pool, a library and private verandas in each guest room. For winter rates, visit www.beaurive.com.

To do, to see

Despite its small size, Dominica does not skimp on visitor attractions.

" Last January, the Wacky Rollers Adventure Park welcomed its first visitors and now offers daily pickups from 10 hotels on the west coast. Wacky Rollers, an ecotourism park, has river tubing, kayak excursions and Jeep safaris. For more, visit www.wackyrollers.com.

" Last spring the first phase of Gingerette Nature Sanctuary, a 35-acre ecological preserve on the Layou River, opened. The preserve is intended to serve as a model agro-tourism project showcasing native vegetation.

It features a waterfall, river swimming, bird watching, nature walks and guided tours. An official Web site is under construction, but more information is available at [email protected].

" Pirate lore is the focus of Delphis, an online destination marketing company that is tapping into the growing interest among visitors of Dominicas pirate history. The firms Web site (www.piratesdominica.com) takes a close look at the pirates who visited Dominica and explores the stories, true or not, of buried treasure.

For more on Dominica, visit www.dominica.dm or call (888) 645-5637.

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

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