FREEPORT, Bahamas -- Attendees to the 29th annual Caribbean Tourism Conference took a break from all the talk about the new passport rules to detail strategic plans that included increased hotel inventory, sustainability initiatives and optimistic winter season forecasts.

Tourism plans were revealed and branding campaigns unveiled. Here is a rundown:

" According to Aloun N'dombet Assamba, Jamaica's minister of tourism, an islandwide beautification project is in place in Jamaica to "welcome the increased influx of visitors." The island saw a 17.2% increase in visitors from January through September 2006 over the same period last year.

The airports in Montego Bay and Kingston are undergoing an upgrade with streamlined procedures at the airports to allow passengers with no goods to declare to walk through customs without having to be checked or interviewed.

The Norman Manley Airport in Kingston is undergoing a three-phase, $80 million expansion that includes a new departures terminal and four passenger-loading bridges. The customs hall at Montego Bay Airport is being expanded and the number of gates increased from 20 to 23.

On the hotel front, a certification program for hotels equipped to host disabled guests will include ratings for properties "to help the physically challenged identify properties catering to their specific needs," Assamba said.

More than 12,000 new rooms will be added in the next four years, significantly boosting Jamaica's current room count of 23,000 rooms.

Meanwhile, a bed-and-breakfast program will launch Dec. 1 with 500 rooms in 160 Jamaican homes. "This is in response to the growing need for ordinary Jamaicans to get involved in tourism," Assamba said.

" Noel Lynch, minister of tourism for Barbados, said that the probable merger between LIAT and Caribbean Star will result in a more efficiently run airline. "There have been too many seats chasing too few passengers. That will change now." he said.

Lynch said that year-round special events "will fill in the traditional tough periods. As an example, Barbados will host the World Cup of Golf in early December, a traditionally slow period for visitor arrivals."

In 2009, Barbados will open a new marina to cater to megayachts.

" Edison Briesen, tourism minister of Aruba, said the island's new Rumba Aruba marketing campaign is designed "to retake control after a year of challenges," a reference to the case of Natalie Holloway, the Alabama teenager who went missing on Aruba in May 2005.

Among the developments are JetBlue's launch on Dec. 15 of daily nonstop service from New York; a $26 million renovation at the Hyatt resort, which will be completed next March; a $35 million redo of the airport and a cruise terminal expansion.

" Several hotel projects are underway in Trinidad, according to Jim Hepple, director of tourism and president of the Trinidad & Tobago Tourism Development Council.

These include the Holiday Inn Express, opening in January; the 428-room Hyatt Regency, opening in September; and a $40 million renovation of the Trinidad Hilton by December 2007.

Delta will launch nonstop service four times a week from Atlanta to Port of Spain, Trinidad, on Dec. 9 and weekly service from Atlanta to Tobago on Feb. 17.

" According to Henry de LaGarde, the U.S. Virgin Islands' director of tourism and general manager, North America, new projects include the Yacht Haven Grande and the dock facility at Crown Bay Center (both in St. Thomas) and the revitalization of the Frederiksted area in St. Croix.

The $150 million Yacht Haven Grande complex, set to open next March on the site of the old Yacht Haven Hotel (which was severely damaged by hurricanes in 1995 and had become an eyesore), will include a yacht club, retail space, four restaurants, condos and a marina for boats up to 450 feet in length. The $28 million Crown Bay Center opens next month as the second cruise terminal on St. Thomas.

"Two large ships will be able to dock at the same time, including the QM2, which will which dock there this winter," " de LaGarde said.

" In St. Vincent and The Grenadines, the $170 million Argyle International Airport, set to open in 2011, "will open the destination up to jets and nonstop services from the U.S. for the first time," said Vida Bernard, director of tourism.

" Ronella Croes, Bonaire's director of tourism, reported that Continental will add a second nonstop flight from Newark on Dec. 16. The carrier currently offers a nonstop from Houston.

"Growth is on our agenda, and we will add 600 new hotel rooms in the next few years to our inventory," she said.

" Curacao's new international airport, which opened in July, can handle up to 1.6 million passengers a year, according to the tourist board. Hotel occupancy averaged 83.1% from January through June. Hotel rooms will total more than 6,000 by 2009, which is double the current inventory.

" More than 1,000 hotel rooms will open on St. Lucia by the end of this year, according to Phillip Pierre, minister of tourism. That will bring the room count total to more than 6,500.

Increased airlift includes Air Jamaica's three weekly nonstops from New York and Delta's daily service from Atlanta.

" Puerto Rico reported more than $777 million in hotel development over the next few years, more than $400 million in airport improvements and the launch in early 2007 of a booking engine on its Web site, GoToPuertoRico.com.

" Visitor figures for the Turks and Caicos from January through September totaled 181,000; the total for all of 2005 was 176,000 visitors, according to Lindsay Musgrove, director of tourism.

However, he stressed that "we are not going after the masses. We are going after the high-end market."

The hotel room count will rise from 5,000 to 8,000 by 2012, Musgrove added.

" St.Maarten/St. Martin, now united in promotions and marketing, will have 5,500 new hotel rooms by the end of 2007. The $90 million expansion at Princess Juliana Airport will be completed on Nov. 10.

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

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