The Puerto Rico Tourism Co. announced a four-year strategic tourism plan for the destination's Porta Caribe region, comprising 15 municipalities along the south coast, according to Terestella Gonzalez Denton, executive director.

The plan is part of the island's overall Tourism Master Plan.

The focus of the plan calls for identifying strategies that will increase the tourism potential of the region, which includes the towns of Ponce, Guanica, Salinas, Santa Isabel and Yauco, among others.

"Regarding the marketing plan for Porta Caribe, we are entering a new phase where it is vital to incorporate the private sector in the marketing, promotion and public relations efforts to be developed," Gonzalez Denton said.

Gonzalez Denton called for cooperation "in all sectors so that we encourage economic development and job creation in the municipalities of the area."

The publicity and promotional plan for Porta Caribe, which initially got a $1 million infusion as part of the destination's Tourism Master Plan, will be "strengthened," according to the executive director.

The region welcomed more than 166,000 visitors last year, an increase of 7.5% compared with 2005.

Specifics of the new strategic plan highlight the importance of improved air access to Mercedita Airport in Ponce, the main airport serving the region.

Flights to Ponce were launched this year by Cape Air and Continental. Spirit will begin service from Fort Lauderdale on Nov. 1, and JetBlue debuts its Fort Lauderdale flights to Ponce on Nov. 5.

Infrastructure improvements will include a program called "Mi Isla Preciosa" (My Precious Island) that will feature road and highway development, new signage, road maintenance and garbage disposal programs.

Porta Caribe's hotel developments include a four-room addition to the Plaza Las Delicias Hotel located at the Plaza de Recreo Las Delicias in central Ponce, the conversion of the 300-room Vista Magna Hotel from the former InterContinental property in Ponce and the expansion of the 58-room Pichi's Hotel & Convention Center in Guayanilla west of Ponce.

As for sea arrivals, the Port of the Americas in Ponce, primarily a cargo port, is expanding its deep-water facilities. Celebrity Cruises and Holland America Line have expressed interest in cruise calls in Ponce, according to Gonzalez Denton.

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

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