FREEPORT, Bahamas -- Despite the challenges facing the Caribbean tourism industry on several fronts -- air access to, through and within the region; the slumping economy; the threat of war and continued threats of terrorism; crime and security; discounted rates; the lack of public/private-sector cooperation and collaboration -- the 25th Caribbean Tourism Conference was not all doom and gloom.

In fact, CTC-25, whose theme was Reinventing Caribbean Tourism, had several bright spots.

Leading the charge was the Bahamas prime minister Perry G. Christie who, in his keynote address, railed against what he described as "the same discussions that took place 20 years ago that never accomplished anything but continuing competitiveness" in the region.

Christie exhorted the audience of more than 1,000 government officials, tourism ministers, agents, operators and industry representatives to stop talking and start acting.

Other highlights:

• Several destinations reported visitor increases: Grenada, up 8.3% from January through August; and Curacao, up 12% in U.S. arrivals in the first nine months of the year.

Barbados figures jumped 22.2% in July over the same month a year ago, which officials attributed to the Best of Barbados discount program, which runs through Dec. 15. Nevis' tourism statistics, meanwhile, are up 18% from the U.S. and 7% overall.

• St. Lucia's Simply St. Lucia Piton Points incentive plan, which runs through May 30, "is sparking much interest among agents," according to Maria Fowle, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Tourism.

• St. Vincent & The Grenadines will focus on niche markets in 2003, especially sailing, nature tourism, culture and heritage. In addition, the country's Web site redesign will launch in January.

• St. Maarten will begin a $3 million campaign in 2003 that will include agent seminars in key U.S. markets.

Theo Heyliger, commissioner of tourism and economic affairs, said Delta's new thrice-weekly service from Atlanta to St. Maarten from Dec. 1 through April 30 "will help brand the destination in our primary marketplace."

• In Puerto Rico, 21 new hotel projects are currently under construction, representing an investment of $560 million that will add 2,262 rooms (15% of the total inventory) by the end of 2003.

The venue for next year's tourism conference could be the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to Jean Holder, CTO's secretary general.

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