MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica -The Caribbean Hotel Association's (CHA) annual Marketplace trade show, held Jan. 9 to 11 at Half Moon Montego Bay, claimed a number of firsts - in attendance, venue and size.

The event, the first held in Jamaica since 1980's Marketplace in Kingston, was also the first held under a big top - a very big top. In fact, it was a one-acre marquee, or tent, that housed 403 supplier booths visited by more than 1,543 delegates.

"The CHA went outside the box on this one," said Alec Sanguinetti, director general.

"Because the size of Marketplace has grown each year and because most member hotels are in destinations that lack adequate conference space and funds to facilitate such a large meeting, we've been relegated in the past few years to hosting this important event in just a few venues with large conference space."

However, U.K.-based Virgin Holidays, a new private-sector partner, stepped up this year with funds to help facilitate transportation and construction of the huge marquee.

Half Moon Resort had the lawn space near its existing conference center and shopping village and, voila, a new venue was in place to host what became the largest-ever Marketplace event.

Hoteliers and tour operators praised the event coordinators and planners.

Richard Doumeng, owner and manager of the Bolongo Bay Beach Resort in St. Thomas, termed the event "the best Marketplace I've attended in the last 10 years. The venue drew many more buyers than in years past, and my appointment schedule was fully booked."

Buyers met with suppliers on scheduled 20-minute appointments.

"The marquee setting, the orderly booth setup and the pre-determined appointment schedules drew praise from all par- ticipants on either side of the table," according to Ed Malone, general manager of the recently renovated and reopened Talk of the Town Resort in Aruba.

This year's event drew more tourism and government officials than in the past, with tourism ministers representing Grenada, St. Kitts, St. Maarten, Aruba, Bermuda and the Dominican Republic.

Jamaica's minister of tourism and industry, Aloun N'dombet Assamba, wandered the trade show floor with delegates.

Jamaica's prime minister, P. J. Patterson, in his keynote speech, announced that financing had been secured for Jamaica to build its largest-ever conference center, which "will help propel the entire region to continue its tourism growth."

In other Marketplace news:

"  Expedia and the CHA formed a partnership in which Expedia will help drive travelers' interest in the CHA's 849 member hotels, representing more than 125,000 rooms from megaresorts to family-owned inns in 36 national hotel associations.

Expedia also will work with the CHA to educate its members about online distribution.

" Sangster Airport in Montego Bay completed the first phase of its three-phase, $125 million terminal-expansion project. Ken Campbell, airport marketing director, said industry trends "indicate a 16% increase this year in traffic through this airport."

" More than 12,000 new rooms will join Jamaica's inventory within the next eight years, according to Paul Pennicook, the Jamaica Tourist Board's director of tourism. These include 5,000 rooms in 13 hotels by Spanish hotel developers Riu, Grupo Pinero, Iberostar and AMResorts.

Pennicook also reported that the new tourism enhancement fee of $10 per arriving air passenger and $2 per cruise passenger will be collected at the time of booking and built into the ticket cost.

The date for fee implementation will be "late winter," according to Pennicook. Funds collected will be used for the cleanup and beautification of tourist areas in Jamaica.

" Air Jamaica, recently taken over by the government, is seeking "a viable plan of growth," according to Pennicook.

"The government has no intention of controlling the airline permanently. It will continue to fly just as Air Jamaica Vacations will continue to operate as usual," he said.

" Wyndham International "is on the fast track," said Tim Rector, regional vice president of sales and development for Wyndham's Caribbean division.

"There's lots of investment and expansion. In Puerto Rico, Las Casitas will add 67 units, El Conquistador will renovate its guest rooms, El San Juan will announce a complete renovation program within 60 days and all rooms are being redone at the Wyndham Condado Plaza in San Juan."

He said Wyndham Rose Hall in Jamaica hosted 560 weddings last year. It also attracted numerous family groups "because of the success of our water park."

Wyndham Aruba Resort Spa & Casino added wireless Internet access, launched a pool concierge and beach butler program last year and opened a $4 million ballroom on New Year's Eve.

Rector said Wyndham Martineau Bay Resort & Spa on Vieques is "very much alive and well."

"Cape Air's new service from Isla Grande and San Juan, plus its interline agreement with Continental, makes seamless travel [possible] from the U.S. mainland," he added.

" Viva Wyndham Resorts now has eight properties, five in the Dominican Republic, that operate "close to full most of the time," according to Ettore Colussi, president of Viva Wyndham.

" American Express initiatives include an expansion of its Beyond the Beach card-member marketing program that began last year with 10 destinations and now includes 17 Caribbean countries.

" Richard Skerritt, minister of tourism, sports and culture for St. Kitts, said the opening of the 632-room Marriott in 2003 "improved our airlift and opened up new markets for us, such as golf and sports tourism."

With the debut of St. Kitts' second cruise pier, which can support megaships, the Queen Mary 2 began weekly calls Jan. 12. Skerritt hopes to introduce a program for the island's smaller properties, as well.

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