CANCUN, Mexico -- A regional marketing plan, which has been kicked about in the Caribbean for years, actually could happen in 2002, Ralph Taylor, president of the Caribbean Hotel Association said at the opening ceremony of the CHA's annual Marketplace here.

Twice since Sept. 11, Caribbean heads of state have met to develop a strategic tourism plan, the details of which could be unveiled within six months.

Allen Chastanet, chairman of CHA's marketing committee and executive vice president of Air Jamaica, said Caribbean governments have committed to $4 million for tourism marketing in the first year, with 60% coming from the private sector, 40% from the public sector.

Chastanet is hopeful another $4 million will be raised from other tourism partners.

The first priority of the program, he said, is a cable TV campaign with four spots set to run in late February with the theme "Life Needs the Caribbean."

Each ad will feature a toll-free number and a tag line for consumers to call a travel agent.

Taylor, meanwhile, documented the falloff in business that began last March with a sagging economy. That was followed by rate discounting, and then a decline in arrivals that culminated with the attacks of Sept. 11 "and its catastrophic events for world travel and especially the Caribbean."

"Consumer confidence slipped and the market was on a slippery slope," he said.

Short-term booking trends are not filling hotel rooms now, and the outlook through March is a "tough one," Taylor said.

However, Taylor and other tourism officials here are optimistic that "the uptick in the economy and in travel will be evident by the second or third quarter of this year."

In other news at the conference:

• Jamaica's director of tourism, Faye Pickersgill, reported that declines since Sept. 11 are leveling off.

Business to Jamaica was down 20% in September, 20.7% in October, 14.9% in November, 11.7% in December and 10.6% this month. "We need to continually stimulate the market," she said.

To that end, Jamaica launched a national TV campaign Jan. 7 that will run through Feb. 16. The theme builds on the solidarity message begun after Sept. 11.

• The new executive director of the Caribbean Alliance for Sustainable Tourism (CAST) is Jasmine Garraway. She replaces Kelly Robinson, who directed CAST since its inception five years ago.

• Coral Hotels & Resorts, with four properties in the Dominican Republic, will open the 217-room Crowne Plaza Malecon in Santo Domingo in spring 2003. Coral will operate the property, which will carry the Crowne Plaza name.

• CHA Marketplace 2003 will take place in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

• The latest date for the opening of the state-of-the-art spa at Wyndham Sugar Bay Beach Resort in St. Thomas is May.

• Paradise Cove Resort in Anguilla opened its Jasmine Villa that includes 12 studio suites, three one-bedroom penthouse suites, a fitness center and meeting room.

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