Facing a stagnant U.S. economy, fuel hikes and flight cutbacks, Caribbean tourism leaders will launch a $60 million campaign to aggressively market the Caribbean as a single destination under one brand.

Allen Chastanet, chairman of the Caricom (Caribbean Community) Task Force on Tourism, said that the 15 Caricom countries would pay $21 million, while the remainder of the money would come from the Caribbean Hotel Association, the Caribbean Tourism Organization and other stakeholders.

A regional council of trade ministers has been given a 60-day deadline, effective July 2, to formulate fundraising plans for the venture.

"We are having similar discussions with the Dutch islands, the French islands, the U.S. territories and the Spanish-speaking countries as well as with the cruise industry," Chastanet said.

"The goal is to raise at least $60 million by the end of the year to start a worldwide campaign for Caribbean tourism" he said. "If the Caribbean is proactive in its marketing campaign, it will go a long way to ensure that we can fill flights and produce the kind of yield to overcome price hikes."

The marketing activities are expected to begin after the U.S. presidential election in November.

The agreement came about during an intense day of tourism-related discussions at Caricom's 29th annual summit of the heads of government held recently in Antigua.

Also, plans are in the works to lobby U.S. officials to remove the $40 departure tax that Americans pay when visiting the Caribbean, expand the duty-free allowance and increase the number of U.S. preclearance immigration and customs hubs to include other Caribbean islands.

Only Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, Aruba and Bermuda allow passengers to clear customs and immigration there. Other islands require passengers to clear customs and immigration at U.S. mainland airports.

Interisland travel was not addressed at the Caricom meeting, although the issue has taken on greater urgency given American Airlines' service cuts to the region from its Puerto Rico hub, which go into effect Sept. 3.

Chastanet cited the need for improvement in the inter-regional airline system and said that the existing hubs operating in Barbados, Antigua and Montego Bay "must function more effectively than they have been."

"The ability of the inter-regional carriers to interline with other carriers, provide cost-effective connections, eliminate in-transit taxes and allow passengers to check in to another flight without having to go through customs, immigration and rechecking are some of the basics we have to have in place," Chastanet said.

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