CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Daniel Hughes has big plans for the Caribbean.

Specifically, Hughes is the architect behind a growth plan to enlarge Hilton's presence in the Caribbean region.

Hughes, who was named vice president, operations for Hilton Caribbean last May, said the Caribbean is strategically important for the company.

"We intend to become the premier name in the Caribbean," Hughes said. "We will market heavily to travel agents and wholesalers, whom we value as critical Caribbean partners."

Hughes' game plan begins with Hilton's eight existing Caribbean properties, totaling 2,306 rooms. The group will be marketed as a unit, rather than as individual properties as in the past.

"This allows us to pool resources and promote the Hilton brand name," Hughes said.

Strategies include raising minimum standards for both current and future properties in the areas of amenities, service and children's programs.

The properties include business resorts in Puerto Rico (two); Nassau, Bahamas, and Margarita Island, Venezuela; two commercial properties in Jamaica and Trinidad, and two resorts in St. Lucia and Tobago.

The 645-room Caribe Hilton in San Juan reopened Dec. 25, 1999, following a $60 million renovation. An oceanfront spa and Morton's restaurant have since joined the property's list of facilities.

The 300-room Ponce Hilton and Casino on Puerto Rico's south coast breaks ground in June to add another 200 rooms, 100 condominium units and 36 holes of golf.

"The Ponce property has a strong business base now, with the facilities to make it a great resort, especially with the addition of golf," Hughes said.

He added that Hilton hopes to convince travelers to combine a stay at the San Juan property with a stay in Ponce.

The 294-room British Colonial Hilton in Nassau opened early last year following extensive remodeling; the 400-room Hilton Margarita and Suites opened in 1993 and added Venezuela's only casino in 1998.

Hilton's commercial properties include a 353-room hotel in Kingston, Jamaica, and the 394-room Hilton Trinidad and Conference Center, in Port of Spain, which plans a $22 million renovation starting this year.

On the resort side, improvements at the 114-room Jalousie Hilton Resort and Spa in St. Lucia include bringing in three barges of sand from Guyana to widen the existing beach.

The newest property is the 200-room Tobago Hilton, which opened last November. Its 27-hole golf course will be finished in May.

On the drawing board is the new Barbados Hilton, which will replace the older structure that was torn down.

When the 380-room property opens in summer 2003, the Barbados Hilton will have six restaurants and convention space and will be marketed as a business resort.

Within the next three years, Hilton will expand to other islands as well, according to Hughes.

"We are considering three possible acquisitions in the U.S. Virgin Islands, another in San Juan and a new hotel at Grace Bay in Turks & Caicos," he said.

Other possibilities for leisure resorts include the Cayman Islands, Grenada, Belize, Nevis, Costa Rica, Jamaica's north coast, Antigua, Guadeloupe and Martinique.

Hilton has targeted Aruba; Cuba, and Cancun, Mexico, for business resorts, and the Dominican Republic for a commercial hotel.

"We are committed to the Caribbean. We want to achieve a mix of business and leisure travel and be the leader in that market," Hughes said.

Hughes' plan also incorporates trends in Caribbean tourism, such as shorter vacations, family packages and the growth of the incentive market.

For information, contact Hilton International at (800) HILTONS. The Web site address is www.hilton.com.

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