GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands -- To bolster off-season tourism in the face of first-quarter visitor declines, the destination has launched an aggressive incentive awards program aimed at agents.

Speaking at the first annual Cayman Islands Tourism Exchange here, McKeeva Bush, minister of tourism, exhorted U.S. wholesalers to support the Department of Tourism's promotional efforts to brand the Cayman Islands as "safe, secure and serene. Every island offers sun, sand and sea, but we can offer the visitors more."

Bush said, despite the 5.6% decline in air arrivals from January through March, cruise business was up 11% for the same time period and up 35% year-over-year (compared to 2000).

"There is improvement after a rough time, but there is much to be done. The need for collaboration and cooperation is underscored in the wake of Sept. 11," Bush said.

The Cayman Rewards program, launched May 1, is aimed specifically at individual travel agents and their agencies and is geared to the volume of bookings. The program is valid on bookings through October for travel though the end of the year.

The top-volume agent -- the minimum number of bookings is 20 -- is eligible to win a monthly prize of $500 with another $500 going to the agency.

Agents report their bookings to a Web site at www.caymanrewards.com which tracks their business. The site will be operational in the near future.

Another related May-through-October incentive program, called H2GO!, contains a My Element discount card that features savings up to $1,100 per couple with discounts on attractions, water sports, restaurants and shopping.

The minimum-stay requirement is three nights, and most hotels in the Cayman Islands offer special rates in conjunction with the program. Travel is valid through October.

For details on the program, visit www.caymanislands.ky.

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