CASTRIES, St. Lucia -- Hotel developments, expanded airlift and a spike in visitor figures in 2003 are good news to tourism officials here who are optimistic that 2004 will see a continuation of the upward tourism trend.

St. Lucia's primary markets, the U.S., the U.K. and the Caribbean, registered increases through the third quarter of last year, up 8.6% overall and 4.2% for the U.S, according to the St. Lucia Tourist Board.

An official described the upsurge as "one of the highest bumps in the eastern Caribbean."

Airlift will get a boost when Delta Airlines launches nonstop service between Atlanta and St. Lucia's Hewanorra Airport on April 4. Delta will fly twice weekly, on Sundays and Mondays, using the 737-800 series with 148 seats.

Minister of tourism Phillip Pierre said the new service "will add impetus to our efforts to increase U.S. arrivals and initiatives to expand the reach of St. Lucia's tourism product."

In the hotel arena, the 20-room boutique-style Coco Kreole (formerly Candyo Inn), which opened in Rodney Bay last fall, offers high-season rates based on length of stay.

For one to three nights, prices begin at $100 per room, per night, double; the rates drop to $95 a night for a stay of three to five nights and to $90 a night for six or more nights. The prices cover accommodations and continental breakfast; an 18% tax is extra.

Coco Kreole, the first of three properties in the Coco Resorts family, is owned and managed by Allen Chastanet, formerly with Air Jamaica and, prior to that, with the St. Lucia Tourist Board as director of tourism.

Chastanet said that Coco Resorts will include two additional properties, Coco Palm and Coco Plum, to be built in two phases over the next four years.

The new resorts, also in the Rodney Bay area, will feature between 70 and 90 rooms each, representing a total investment of $15 million.

For Coco Kreole information and reservations, visit the Web site at www.cocokreole.com.

Other hotel developments:

• Stonefield Estate Villa Resort near Soufriere added four one-bedroom luxury villas to its room inventory of 16 one-, two-and three-bedroom villas.

Each of the new villas has a four-poster king bed, a kitchenette, a veranda with hammocks, a private garden shower, a walk-in closet, double sinks and a deck with a plunge pool.

The villas, named Casuarina, Rain Tree, Frangipani and Manchineel, offer ocean views; rates start at $250 a night, double. The resort has seven-night honeymoon, wedding, escape and adventure package plans.

For reservations or information, visit www.stonefieldvillas.com.

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

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