KINGSTON, Jamaica -- Eight Caribbean nations are racing the clock to meet a March 2007 deadline, convinced that success could swell their visitor figures by thousands over a two-month span.

For the first time ever, the West Indies will play host to the Cricket World Cup.

The event, 51 matches played by 16 teams over 47 days in nine venues, will kick off with an opening ceremony in Greenfield Stadium in Jamaica on March 11, 2007, and wrap up in Kensington Oval in Barbados on April 29.

Other islands that will host World Cup matches are Guyana, Trinidad, Antigua, St. Kitts, St. Lucia and Grenada.

The Cricket World Cup is held every four years -- South Africa hosted the event in 2003 -- and cricket-playing countries attach as much prestige to hosting this sporting event as they attach to hosting the Olympics.

Cricket, while not popular in the U.S., engenders fierce loyalty and exuberance from the millions around the world who play it and follow it.

Cricket has always been a binding force among Caribbean people, and this is a signal opportunity for the sport, which means so much to us as a region, to unite us in an even more meaningful way, said Ken Gordon, event chairman and president of the West Indies Cricket Board.

For host countries, the event poses massive logistical problems in moving players, officials and spectators to nine different stadiums in a region not noted for ease of intra-island travel.

In addition, the event requires a sizable budget, an infrastructure that includes modern stadiums, accommodations and roads, plus myriad volunteers and ground arrangements.

Tourism officials, while pleased and proud that the Caribbean will play host, were concerned that such a popular event would reduce room inventory and airline seats available for regular visitors during the peak winter season.

Forecasters originally predicted that upwards of 100,000 cricket-crazy visitors would descend on the region for the event, which would also be broadcast to a global television audience of 2.2 billion in 200 countries, with the largest audience in India.

However, the initial prediction of visitors has been downgraded several times.

In fact, Berthia Parle, president of the Caribbean Hotel Association, estimated at the recent Caribbean Marketplace in San Juan that the turnout would be closer to 10,000 to 12,000 people.

This is a more realistic figure in terms of visitors who will come for two weeks, Parle said.

She also questioned the long-term financial benefits that the region would derive from hosting the World Cup.

Governments have borrowed a lot of money to make this happen, she said. The issue remains as to whether there will be enough rooms available to accommodate both our regular winter guests and the cricket participants. A lot of the megaresorts that are planned just will not happen in time for World Cup.

As for the cricket facilities, the current timeline calls for the completion in October of the major components of the nine stadiums under construction or renovation.

Donald Lockerbie, venue development director, said, We cannot get to that stage without working purposefully every day, steadily chipping away at our targets and meeting every deadline.

Although more than 800,000 tickets will be sold for the World Cup events, ranging in price from $10 for a single match to $300 for the best seats at the final, only those travel agents and tour operators authorized by the the International Cricket Council will be able to sell tour and travel packages (flights, tours, ground transportation, accommodations and tickets).

The ICC expects to release the names of OTAs (official travel agents) next month, according to a spokesman. Individual tickets may be purchased on the events official Web site, www.cricketworldcup.com, beginning in May.

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

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