Martinique's tourism product is heating up this winter with the Dec. 16 launch of Delta's weekly Saturday service from Atlanta to Fort de France, supplemented by American Eagle's flights from San Juan, which go daily from Feb. 1.

According to Glen Huenstein, executive vice president at Delta, the airline will be the only U.S. carrier to serve a destination in the French West Indies with nonstop service from the North American mainland.

And what can first-time U.S. visitors expect from the "Isle of Flowers"?

"We have more than 5,000 rooms in 160 properties in all price ranges, including the 293-room Club Med Buccaneer's Creek, [which] opened a year ago after a $60 million renovation, and the 50-suite Cap Est Lagoon Resort & Spa, one of just four Relais & Chateaux properties in the Caribbean," said Madeleine de Grandmaison, chairwoman of the Martinique Tourism Authority.

Other properties include the 198-room Sofitel Bakoua near Fort de France; the Les Amandiers Resort, a hotel in the Karibea chain; and the all-inclusive Baie du Galion property, which is geared to U.S. visitors.

Boutique hotel Maison d'Hotes Plein Soleil, a 30-minute drive from Le Lamentin Airport, will reopen Dec. 16 following renovations. Another small property is the 12-room Domaine Saint Aubin in Trinite on the north Atlantic coast.

"We can offer our U.S. visitors a wide range of accommodations, and we're prepared to do that now," Grandmaison said. "Our flight situation has been difficult until now, but with the strong increase from the U.S this winter in ... flights and bookings, we are projecting an excellent season."

U.S. tour operators selling Martinique benefit from a pricing system in which $1 equals 1 euro, the currency on the island, a department of France. (The actual exchange was $1 equals 0.76 euros at press time.)

Visitor figures continue to climb, with more than 55% since 2004 coming from the U.S. To better tap into the U.S. market, the Martinique Promotion Bureau launched a $2 million ad and marketing campaign with the tag line "Color Me Martinique."

Components include a new promotional video and the first edition of the "Tourist Professional Guide," produced by the Martinique Hotel and Tourism Association.

The guide, written in English, includes an accommodations directory, car rental information, sightseeing excursions, sports activities and general travel facts.

Also new this season is a sightseeing route called La Route des Rhums, or the Rum Route, which follows the sugarcane fields and 11 distilleries around the island.

Martinique hosts rum festivals in June and mid-December, which this year features a traditional Creole village, rum tastings and music. Carnival celebrations are on tap from Feb. 17 through 21.

For more information or details, visit www.martinique.org.

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

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