OCHO RIOS, Jamaica -- A Caribbean Investment Fund should be created to finance a regional airline and an areawide marketing program, government and industry officials said at the second annual Caribbean Hotel & Investment Conference here.

Keynote speaker Basdeo Panday, prime minister of Trinidad & Tobago, recommended that Caribbean governments establish "a formal consortia to generate and sustain funding for a regional marketing program and a dedicated regional air service." Panday pointed out that the Caribbean anticipates 28 million stayover arrivals by 2010. "None of us can afford to continue to wring our hands as our only response to the pressing problems of air supply and regional promotion," Panday said.

Although Horace Hord, American Airlines' director for the Atlantic and Caribbean, admitted that "the last thing I want to see is a Caribbean airline," he said that the region faces a major challenge if demand is not created for other carriers to serve the islands. Hord urged governments to make a "concerted effort" to reinvest in their own destinations.

Percival J. Patterson, prime minister of Jamaica, said factors such as the globalization of the resort business and increased interest in U.S. domestic travel make it imperative that the Caribbean "attract substantial sums of money" to refurbish properties and build new hotels. He described a Caribbean Investment Fund as "a profit-making, private-sector vehicle able to distribute funds to its shareholders."

The conference was sponsored by the Caribbean Hotel Association and Caribbean Tourism Organization. More than 250 delegates attended this year's gathering.

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