ROAD TOWN, British Virgin Islands -- A new airport and a renewed emphasis on small hotels are the focus of officials at the British Virgin Islands Tourist Board, who are hopeful that these factors will help increase tourism arrivals in 2003.

U.S. visitors last year totaled 290,000. Figures for this year are not available.

Kedrick Malone, tourist board director, said that phase one of the $65 million airport terminal project, which began in April 2000, will be completed by year's end.

"The first phase includes the new passenger terminal and cargo building, roadways, parking facilities and a new aircraft parking apron," Malone said.

The second part of the massive project includes construction of a new control tower and an extension of the existing runway to accommodate larger aircraft, such as the 70-passenger ATR 75, as well as private jets.

Malone said this work is expected to be completed by the third quarter of 2003.

The new terminal, which is four times the size of the prior terminal, will be able to handle more than 1,000 arriving and departing passengers per day; officials estimate that more than 200,000 travelers will pass through the terminal next year.

Facilities include 19 check-in counters, flight information monitors, shops, a concession area and a dual baggage conveyor belt.

"The state-of-the-art terminal sends a message that we want our visitors to experience comfortable and efficient arrivals and departures," Malone said. "The airport is an important selling tool for smaller aircraft that have regional charters in and out of the British Virgin Islands, as well as the larger carriers, such as American Eagle and LIAT, that have served the territory for many years."

A second focus is the accommodations sector and its Hidden Secrets initiative that targets properties of 40 rooms or less, including hotels, inns, guesthouses, apartments and villas.

"The B.V.I. has no chain hotels," Malone said. "Of the 1,500 hotel rooms available, 50% fall into the small hotels category. This program is designed to support the independently owned properties that are our backbone."

The program includes marketing, sales, product development, reservations and a design consultancy service, which assists properties with architectural and design changes.

Reservations are supported by an online reservations system, hosted by California-based WorldRes. The function, located on the B.V.I.'s Web site, will shortly have an agent booking link.

"We do not want this reservations function to operate to the detriment of agents," Malone said.

Monique Hodge has been appointed to the post of small properties administrator to oversee the Hidden Secrets program.

Hodge described the initiative as one that "will empower small accommodation properties to succeed in the hospitality industry."

For additional information, contact the tourist board at (800) 835-8530 or visit the Web site.

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