PARAMARIBO, Suriname -- Nature, heritage and culture were the focus of the third annual Sustainable Tourism Development Conference, hosted by the Caribbean Tourism Organization in conjunction with the government of Suriname.

Suriname, located on the northeast coast of South America between Guyana to the west and French Guiana to the east, is a member nation of CTO's 32-country roster.

More than 250 delegates attended the conference, which explored methods of maintaining a viable, competitive tourism product in the Caribbean. Dominica was the locale of the 1997 meeting, followed by Trinidad and Tobago last year.

Dick C. de Bie, minister of transport, communication and tourism for Suriname, acknowledged that his country "has limited experience in regard to the promotion of tourism." Two years ago, the government initiated a development plan with the private sector, created the Suriname Tourism Foundation and declared 14% of the country a protected nature reserve.

Expansion of midmarket accommodations, increased airlift, participation by indigenous people living in the protected areas, creation of industry training programs and conservation of primary attractions are strategies that will be used in Suriname's tourist development, according to de Bie.

Close to 100,000 visitors entered Suriname last year; 76% represented ethnic travelers from Europe and those visiting friends and relatives. U.S. tourism numbers are not sizable at this point. Guyana will be the site of the Sustainable Tourism Development Conference in 2000.

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