Islands focus on fueling rebound

PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos -- Turks and Caicos continues to rebound from the post-9/11 slump, with new airlift, hotel and restaurant openings, novel attractions and a packed events calendar for 2003.

According to the Turks and Caicos Tourism Board, visitor arrivals last November grew 46% compared with the same month in 2001, followed by a 27% increase in December and a 26% hike in arrivals in January compared with the year before.

"These figures are very encouraging to all of us ... because [they prove] that we have started to rebound," said director of tourism John Skippings.

Visitor arrivals will be fueled further by new weekly port calls in Grand Turk by Festival Cruises through May.

But bigger transport news is in the air. Starting this month, US Airways is increasing to daily service the four-times-weekly service to Providenciales from Charlotte, N.C. introduced last November.

American and Delta also introduced or increased service from major U.S. markets.

To handle more air traffic, the airport at Providenciales is being expanded with the construction of another terminal, while an airport is under construction on Grand Turk for international flights.

Festival Cruises will make weekly port calls at Grand Turk Harbor, above, through May; the island also is building a new airport. On the five-star resort front, the Turks and Caicos Club opened in December on Grace Bay in Providenciales; the property boasts the gourmet restaurant Simba.

In addition, the Grace Bay Club said it will add 34 luxury condominium residences, a spa and luxury amenities. The Trade Winds Condotel opened, as did the Alexandra Resort and Spa, home to The Orchid restaurant.

Over on the less-populated -- and less visited -- South Caicos, work began on two new developments set for completion by year's end: the 100-room Tucker Hill hotel and the 400-unit High Point hotel/condominium development.

For clients not content to sit on the beach, Turks and Caicos this year offers an extended roster of activity and event options.

Jacques Cousteau wannabes should head for the new Undersea Explorer semi-submarine operated by Providenciales-based Caicos Tours.

Setting out from the Tiki Hut Restaurant at Turtle Cove Marina, the vessel offers three reef-viewing trips per day; tickets cost $39 for adults and $29 for children under age 12.

Meanwhile, on Grand Turk, Oasis Divers (at www.oasisdivers.com) bought a new whale-watching boat and kayaks, and Jagan Tours in Salt Cay (at www.saltcay.org/saltcaytours) began whale-watching tours.

Clients pooped from all the activity can retire to the new April's Spa on Providenciales, which joins Point Grace's Thalgo Spa, the Serenity Spa at Coral Gardens and Spa Tropique, with treatment centers at Ocean Club, the Sands and Miramar Resort.

Turks and Caicos is putting increased emphasis on events and cultural tourism this year, said the tourism board's Skippings, adding, "Events give our visitors a sense of community spirit and the culture of our islands."

Highlights this year include the Ripsaw Music Festival at the end of August, which will gather performers of this local style from across the islands.

This year's festival on Grand Turk will run Aug. 29 and 30.

Other events this spring, summer and fall include:
• April 21: Kite-flying competition, Providenciales.
•May 22 to 24: South Caicos Regatta.
• June 11 to 14: Conch Carnival, Grand Turk.
• July 7 to 13: Caicos Classic All-Release Fishing.
• Oct. 10 to 12: Turks and Caicos Amateur Open Championship, Providenciales Golf Club.

For details, call the Turks and Caicos Tourism Board at (954) 568-6588 or visit www.turksandcaicostourism.com.

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