CHARLOTTE AMALIE, St. Thomas -- In the coming months, Puerto Rico plans the development of new products, a stronger eco-tourism push and the opening of its long-awaited convention center, according to Terestella Gonzalez Denton, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Co (PRTC).

Denton presented Puerto Ricos tourism plans at the 28th annual Caribbean Tourism Conference (CTC-28) being held in St. Thomas through Oct. 26.

Puerto Rico experienced a 4% overall increase in visitor arrivals through September over the same period a year ago, Denton reported, and is well on its way to setting records this year.

In fact, Puerto Ricos travel and tourism demand is expected to grow at a solid annual pace of 3.8% over the next decade, according to statistics released by the World Travel & Tourism Council.

To further bolster those visits, a new $21 million ad and promotional campaign will be unveiled Nov. 3 with a theme that encourages travelers to Explore Beyond the Shore. 

The biggest happening in Puerto Rico this year in tourism terms will take place Nov. 18 when the state-of-the-art Puerto Rico Convention Center (PRCC) officially opens as the centerpiece of a $415 million waterfront development project that will have 580,000 square feet of exhibit space and will be able to host more than 10,000 attendees.

Construction already has started on the Sheraton hotel, which will be the anchor property for the center.

The first major event to be held at the PRCC will be the Caribbean Marketplace (formerly the CHA Marketplace) Jan. 15 to 17. Next spring the center also will be the venue for the Caribbean Tourism Organizations 8th Annual Caribbean Conference on Sustainable Tourism Development, April 25 to 29.

Other recent industry developments:

" Puerto Rico currently is served by 23 airlines with 15,000 flights a year. Despite this existing level of service, improved air access is a key strategic issue to grow our tourism industry, Denton said.

To achieve this, the PRTC launched a comprehensive new Air Access Program in June to increase the number of nonstop flights, routes and seat capacity to/from Puerto Rico in the U.S., Europe, Latin America and Canada. The plan updated the previous plan drawn up in 2003.

" A new tourist information center will be in operation in November at Luis Munoz Marin airport in San Juan to provide tourists with resources and trip-planning guides.

The Puerto Rico Airports Authority is investing $2.5 million to renovate Ponces Mercedita Airport, set for completion in February.

" In the accommodations sector, Denton reported that by the end of 2005, Puerto Rico will have close to 14,000 rooms. For instance, the 474-room Renaissance La Concha Hotel & Casino will open by the end of this year with a casino, three restaurants, a pool and fitness center.

" A new paradores marketing campaign targets both the local and U.S. markets. Through April, selected paradores are offering a two-night stay priced from $299 with accommodations, breakfast and dinner, and a 25% discount from Hertz. A list of participating properties is available at www.gotoparadores.com.

" In the arena of ecotourism, Puerto Rico has four designated Blue Flag-certified beaches: El Escambron and Carolina in the San Juan area, and Montserrate in Luquillo and Flamenco Beach on Culebra Island. Seven more beaches are under review and could receive certification by the end of the year.

" To enable agents to view its online specialist program, PRTC put its Puerto Rico Travel Expert program on line at www.gotopuertorico.com/travelagent.

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

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