Attendance at the annual Caribbean Marketplace business-to-business event at the Puerto Rico Convention Center in San Juan from Jan. 10 to 12 could well serve as a barometer for the 2010 Caribbean tourism season.

Hoteliers and tourism officials are banking on pent-up demand for warm-weather destinations, hoping that travelers who postponed their trips this year for economic reasons are now ready to pack their bags and head to the islands this winter and throughout 2010.

However, tourism officials and hoteliers were cautioned not to expect an uptick in tourism in 2010 to be evenly spread throughout the Caribbean.

"The lion's share of new business will go to the most savvy hoteliers and tour operators who are poised for success with strong marketing initiatives and contracts already in place prior to an industry bounceback," said Alec Sanguinetti, CEO of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, which is hosting Marketplace.

Hoteliers who were challenged in 2008 faced the same scenario in 2009. In its 2009 edition of its report, "Caribbean Trends in the Hotel Industry," PKF Hospitality Research, an affiliate of PKF Consulting, said that the average Caribbean hotel saw bottom-line profits decline 16% in 2008, due primarily to the global economic recession. Given the poor market conditions this year, further profit deterioration was expected and has been seen in 2009.

Marketplace is expected to outpace the 2009 conference in St. Lucia, which drew more than 400 supplier companies, second only to the record set in 2008.

"With a projected tourism recovery just around the corner, Caribbean Marketplace 2010 represents an unprecedented opportunity for wholesalers, tour operators and meetings planners to meet with hoteliers and tourist office officials to plan and prepare packages and to secure extremely lucrative contracts," said CHTA President Enrique de Marchena Kaluche.

John Taker, purchasing director for Virgin Holidays, agreed.

"This event is the best way to kick off our Caribbean contracting year," he said.

Registration for Marketplace is at www.caribbeanhotelandtourism.com/marketplace.php.

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