NEW YORK -- Puerto Rico's tourism industry is in a state of expansion, according to tourism officials who were in New York this week. That expansion, officials said, is being fueled by massive hotel development and investment; increased airlift and improvements to airports; an 8.2% jump in cruise ship passengers this fiscal year; and increased marketing emphasis and dollar expenditure on both destination promotion and niche market development.

Visitor figures are forecast to top 5 million in 2007, which represents a 7% increase in the Gross Domestic Product and an economic benefit of more than $3.4 billion to the island's economy, according to Mari Laborde, deputy executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Co.

"More than 80% of our visitors are from the U.S., with the Northeast being the strongest market," Laborde said. "Based on first quarter 2008 bookings, we expect to see a visitor growth of 3% or more in 2008 across the board."

Highlights of the tourism developments include:

" With 21 airlines offering service to/from 62 destinations, new flights and route expansions have increased available seats by 2% this year.

Through 2011, $400 million in 13 capital improvement projects are pegged for Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan, including reconstruction of an 11,500-foot runway -- the second longest in the Caribbean -- and renovations to Terminal A, served by American Airlines.

On Puerto Rico's West Coast, Aguadilla's Rafael Hernandez Airport recently opened a $10.1 million international terminal. Passenger traffic spiked 40% in fiscal year 2006 over 2005 to 356,100 passengers.

The Puerto Rico Ports Authority has invested $2.5 million to renovate the Ponce Mercedita Airport in the south, where passenger traffic rose 15% in fiscal year 2006 over 2005.

" New air service from Orlando includes JetBlue's twice-daily flights to San Juan, a daily flight to Aquadilla, and seasonal service to Ponce. In addition, JetBlue has seasonal nonstop service from Boston to San Juan.

Spirit launched nonstop service from Fort Lauderdale to Aguadilla five times a week, and seasonal service to San Juan from Atlantic City, N.J., and Tampa.

Continental has daily flights to Ponce and Aquadilla from Newark.

" Investments in the cruise sector include a $6.5 million drainage project at two piers in San Juan in order to accommodate mega ships.

Both the Port of the Americas in Ponce and the Port of Mayaguez welcomed cruise ships this year for the first time, and both Holland America and Royal Caribbean will make four calls each in 2008 in Mayaguez.

" In the hotel sector, more than 5,359 new rooms will be under construction by June of 2008, totaling $1.3 billion in new investments and generating more than 3,700 new jobs.

Brands currently investing in new properties in Puerto Rico include St. Regis, W Hotels, Sheraton, InterContinental, Marriott and Fairmont.

" New marketing initiatives include the launch this month of a Salsa program for visitors, the debut of the Puerto Rico Coffee Trail in central Puerto Rico and the addition of EyeTour Puerto Rico, a series of free interactive guides to the island available on MP3 players.

" Niche marketing campaigns will focus on 10 specific markets, including history, girlfriend getaways, gastronomy, gay/lesbian and eco-adventure, among others.

For details, visit www.gotopuertorico.com.

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

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