Tobago, the smaller, quieter and less visible half of the twin-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago, is about to emerge from its shell, thanks in part to a fast ferry and the first nonstop air link with a U.S. gateway.

In fact, both the ferry service and the airlift are at the crux of Tobago's new promotional and marketing campaign, launched by tourism officials on recent visits to Washington and New York timed to coincide with the 45th anniversary celebrations of Trinidad and Tobago's independence.

"Tobago is taking a big step forward in the tourism arena," said Neil Wilson, secretary of tourism and transportation. "We can already measure some of the positive impact of Delta's new service by the reports of reservations on the books."

Delta will debut its Saturday roundtrip flight from Atlanta to Tobago's Crown Point Airport on Dec. 15, which will complement its four weekly flights between Atlanta and Port of Spain, Trinidad, that began last December.

"The service will decrease our dependence on the U.K. and European markets," Wilson said. "The flight taps into the U.S. market for the first time, and we intend to capitalize on this."

Of Tobago's 70,000 international visitor arrivals last year (the figure does not include Trinidadian nationals), more than 70% were from the U.K.

U.S. visitors to Tobago arrived via connecting flights in Trinidad, Barbados and other Caribbean islands.

In line with Delta's new service is the expansion project at the Crown Point Terminal building at the Crown Point Airport, seven miles from the capital of Scarborough.

The project, which will be completed in two years or less, includes additional gates and new ramp areas to handle three additional wide-body aircraft.

Where Tobago has seen "enormous" growth, according to Wilson, is in its domestic tourism market out of Trinidad, its biggest market.

"We have quadrupled our numbers from 200,000 visitors in 2006 to what we expect will be close to 800,000 arrivals this year," Wilson said.

He attributed much of that increase to the introduction of the T&T Express, the first craft in the fast ferry fleet, which began service earlier this year. A second ferry, the T&T Spirit, was added in July.

Each of the 300-foot, $46.5 million catamarans can accommodate up to 800 passengers and 180 vehicles, travels at speeds of up to 45 mph and makes the crossing between Trinidad and Tobago in less than three hours, down from the previous seven hours on the older and smaller ferry boats.

"The fares are reasonable, about $10 each way, and each ferry does one roundtrip a day but can double up, if necessary," Wilson said.

Tobago's hotel sector, where the current inventory stands at approximately 5,500 rooms in all categories and the average year-round occupancy at 70%, is dominated by smaller properties.

"We have about 400 new rooms per year coming on line, but we need a better mix of high-end and low-end properties," Wilson said.

The island has not opened a single branded property since the 144-room Hilton Tobago Golf & Spa Resort in 2000. However, negotiations are in the works for a brand-name property to begin construction shortly, according to Wilson.

Cruise traffic has not impacted Tobago noticeably. The island has received 44 calls thus far this year vs. 27 in 2006 but still a far cry from the 60 calls in 2005.

Scarborough Port recently completed construction on a cruise ship jetty, "but it takes from 18 months to two years to get on a ship's schedule," said Wilson.

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

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