SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -Eight Cuban tourism delegates were denied visas by the U.S. State Dept. to attend the 19th annual Caribbean Hotel Association Marketplace held recently in Puerto Rico.

The delegates represented Havana-based firms, including Cubanacan Hoteles and Cubatur, a ground operator, and had already been listed in the convention's Official Delegate Directory when their visa requests were denied just days before the mid-January conference.

Both Ed Malone, CHA president, and John Bell, CHA director general, decried the action as did Jorge Davila, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. Apparently, several parties tried to intervene on behalf of the Cuban delegation but to no avail.

In past years, the annual confab has been held in destinations that hold diplomatic relations with Cuba, including the Bahamas, Jamaica and Mexico. This is the first conference in several years to be held in a U.S. territory.

When asked if the action would prevent CHA from holding Marketplace in Puerto Rico in the future, Malone said that "this is certainly an issue and a factor." Next year's conference will be held at Atlantis Paradise Island Resort in the Bahamas.

Malone characterized the current winter season in the Caribbean as a "difficult one. This will not be a blockbuster season and will pretty much match the visitor figures of last winter," he said. He cited as reasons unseasonably mild weather in the Northeast in December, high air fares, lack of adequate airline seats and competitive destinations.

"The Caribbean resorts that have diversified their marketing initiatives are doing okay; those that are doing things in the same way as 10 years ago will die on the vine," he said. This year's gathering attracted 900 buyers who met with 425 supplier delegates from 36 Caribbean countries.

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