NEW YORK -- The relaunch of a long-dormant marketing plan, a new partnership with the National Tour Association, reports of an anticipated 4.5% growth in the Caribbean region's gross domestic product this year and a thumbs-up from experts regarding the region's investment potential highlighted Caribbean Week here, the annual event sponsored by the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

The CTO, along with the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, unveiled strategies behind the rebirth of the Caribbean Tourism Development Co., first created in 2007.

"We need to change the way we market this region, and the CTDC will be that vehicle," said Ricky Skerritt, CTO chairman.

The revitalized CTDC will market the Caribbean brand through licensing, merchandising, advertising and the sale of vacation travel via its redesigned website at CaribbeanTravel.com.

The site will include an integrated booking platform that will cater to the smaller properties in the Caribbean.

In addition to the revamped site, which could roll out as early as October, the use of social media will figure prominently in the marketing of the new CTDC, according to Skerritt.

"We held the first board meeting a few weeks ago," he said. "There was quick agreement to focus together on the development needs of this region. The public sector and the private sector have to be in tandem to acknowledge the realities of the region, and everyone involved must be clear as to their role."

Skerritt described CTDC as the "bridge between the private sector and the public sector. Brand Caribbean will again be very visible."

A small marketing fund already exists, thanks to pledges from several destinations to jump-start an Internet-based marketing program and hire a CEO in the first quarter of 2012.

"More destinations will come on board as we move along and the CTDC picks up momentum," Skerritt said.

Also unveiled during Caribbean Week was a new cross-promotional partnership between the CTO and the NTA, designed to bring more North American tourists to the Caribbean.

Terms of the agreement call for the NTA and the CTO to promote each other's organizations, encourage members to belong to both groups and attend each other's main conferences.

NTA President Lisa Simon said the partnership "provides direct access both to the destinations and to potential partners, many of whom need more products in unique destinations."

The Caribbean's special-interest markets, including faith-based tourism and agri-tourism, fit that bill, according to Simon.

"This new collaboration makes it easier for both NTA and the CTO to bring new business opportunities to our members," she said.

The Caribbean region also boasts investment opportunities, according to David Brillembourg, founder, chairman and CEO of the Brilla Group, a private equity real estate firm.

Brillembourg, who spoke at the Caribbean Power Breakfast event, said, "The Caribbean is a unique and long-lasting investment. Anyone serious about investment should get on board."

Although the global financial crisis affected the region's hotel sector due to lack of funds and financing that ultimately stalled a number of projects, "these projects will resume and there are many opportunities in the region for return on capital," he said.

In between seminars, panel sessions and meetings, the vibe of the islands was evident at a Cultural Fair in New York's Grand Central Station, complete with a Caribbean wedding, at diaspora gatherings in Brooklyn, cooking demonstrations at Bloomingdale's and a wreath-laying ceremony at Alexander Hamilton's grave site at Trinity Church (Hamilton, a founding father of the U.S., was born in Nevis; Skerritt also is minister of tourism for St. Kitts and Nevis).

Capping the week was the annual Caribbean ball where the dress code was formals and flip-flops, black tie and barefoot.

Even the Empire State Building got into the act, illuminating the nighttime sky with Caribbean colors of blue, green and yellow.

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