ith red, white and blue-spangled
fanfare, the U.S. Virgin Islands will host the Caribbean Tourism
Organization (CTO)'s 26th annual Caribbean Tourism Conference (CTC)
-- the first to be held in the U.S.V.I. -- from Oct. 13 to 18.
The industry gathering traditionally draws upwards of 1,000
delegates, including 300 or so mainland U.S. travel agents and tour
operators, plus government representatives and tourism officials
from 32 Caribbean nations, well-known speakers, panel members and
The conference is a big deal for the host destination which, for
many years, has been either the Bahamas or Puerto Rico, with Aruba,
Barbados, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica occasionally varying
Not many islands have the convention space, hotel rooms and
budget to host a group this large.
This year's conference venue is the 480-room Marriott's
Frenchman's Reef & Morning Star Beach Resorts on St. Thomas,
with pre- and post-tours offered to neighboring St. Croix and St.
By coincidence, it was at Frenchman's Reef in 1976 that a
constitution was drafted that would, in 1989, merge the existing
Caribbean Tourism Association and the Caribbean Tourism Research
and Development Centre into the present Caribbean Tourism
The U.S. Virgin Islands "welcomes the opportunity to showcase
our product and play a role during a critical time in the history
of travel and tourism in helping our industry shape decisions that
will be crucial to determining how the Caribbean will fare in the
global marketplace," said Pamela Richards, the commissioner of
This year's conference theme reflects those sentiments:
"Recovery and Growth in a Fiercely Competitive Environment."
Jean Holder, the CTO's secretary general, said that various
strategies "will be explored to build on the positive signs of
recovery that are emerging in our tourism industry."
The Caribbean's tourism industry has shown signs of recovery
after two difficult years, Holder said.
He cited the 7% increase in stayover arrivals last winter over
the same period in 2002 and a 5% upswing in cruise passenger
Hugh Riley, the CTO's director of marketing for the Americas,
said that sessions and workshops at CTC-26 "will focus on practical
approaches to sustaining and building on this recovery."
Sessions will explore such topics as cooperative strategies for
recovery and growth; Caribbean product positioning; cruise industry
analyses of recovery and growth; and the role of information
technology as a tourism builder.
However, CTC-26 won't be all workshops and meetings. The
Department of Tourism conference planners, working with CTO staff,
called on local businesses to help coordinate events such as a
special edition of the territory's carnival parades, a food fair,
waterfront fireworks, shopping tours, lunch aboard a cruise ship in
port and submarine rides.
Monique Sibilly Hodge, assistant commissioner of tourism, said
agents will be able to inspect small inns, hotels, new restaurants
and attractions on St. Thomas and St. John on a product tour
offered during the conference.
The same holds true for those who sign up for the one- or
two-night St. Croix agent tour before or after the main event.
Conference preparations, which began months ago, Hodge said,
ranged from securing room allotments for delegates at more than
nine properties on St. Thomas to setting up the opening ceremony,
on the campus of the University of the Virgin Islands, where Gov.
Charles Turnbull is expected to speak.
The welcome reception following the ceremony will take place at
Havensight Mall near the West Indian Co. cruise ship piers. "Stores
and restaurants will remain open in Havensight that evening for the
delegates," Hodge said.
"Every government department and hundreds of individuals are
involved in this conference -- from police and fire to health,
security, customs and immigration," Hodge said.
A Youth Congress involving 24 tourism students from various
Caribbean islands will take place simultaneously with the
Meanwhile, the CTO's staff has worked on securing corporate
sponsorships of conference receptions and banquets, finalizing
speakers' itineraries and working within the conference budget.
"This is a coordinated effort and undertaking that symbolizes
the spirit of cooperation between the public and private sectors
that is a driving force in our industry," Riley said.
To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].
For more details on this article, see What's new in the U.S.V.I..