BY DONNA TUNNEY
PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas -- Caribbean hotel and tourism
officials brought big-money lenders and investors to a conference
here in an effort to stimulate development in the region.
The First Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Investment Conference,
which was sponsored by the Caribbean Hotel Association and the
Caribbean Tourism Organization and attracted 350 delegates, is
likely to become an annual one, organizers said.
An investment gathering would appear to be of only passing
interest to the U.S. agency community, but a closer look indicates
that the financing decisions delegates make as a result of the
meeting will determine the kinds of travel products the Caribbean
will offer in the future.
In addition to government officials from every Caribbean nation,
including Cuba, the event drew representatives from such firms as
Ernst & Young, Coopers & Lybrand, The World Bank, European
Investment Bank, Citibank, the Bank of Nova Scotia and the Bank of
the Netherlands Antilles, to name a few.
The conference venue, Atlantis, was a good example of how one
investment often sparks many others.
The sprawling up-market water-themed resort that was financed by
Sol Kerzner's Sun International is seen as being largely
responsible for the tourism renaissance in the Bahamas.
Since Atlantis opened, countless properties have been renovated
and several were bought from the government and transformed into
the luxury products operated by the likes of Sandals and
During the conference, RHK Capital, a Canadian firm, announced
it had bought the British Colonial Beach Resort, a historic
waterfront property in Nassau, and will invest $100 million to
redevelop the site and restore the hotel.
Industry speakers included Robert Crandall, president and chief
executive officer of AMR Corp, who delivered the keynote address;
Jean S. Holder, secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism
Organization; John Jefferis, president of the Caribbean Hotel
Association, and Gordon "Butch" Stewart, president and chief
executive of Sandals and Air Jamaica.
Crandall, who also is president of American Airlines -- the
carrier that operates 70% of air lift to the region -- told
delegates that between 1985 and 1995, Caribbean tourism grew at an
average annual rate of 6.3%, compared with 5.5% for the rest of the
He added that visitor spending in the region has increased by an
average of 10% per year.
These figures, he told potential investors, illustrate the
capacity for continued growth.
Crandall also pointed out some areas that he said need
improvement, including telecommunications.
And, Crandall added, Caribbean governments "must redouble their
efforts to end the scourge of drug trafficking."
Another speaker, Nicholas J. Pritzker, president of Hyatt
Development Corp., said Hyatt constructed the Hyatt Regency Aruba,
a 360-room resort, thanks to incentives like debt-service
guarantees from the Aruban government and easily accessible work
permits for Hyatt employees.
Robertico R. Croes, Aruba's minister of economic affairs and
tourism, added that 10-year "tax holidays" and capital
contributions from the Aruban government helped to attract 10 hotel
The conference featured financial forums and roundtable