MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica -

Jamaica received financing to construct a convention center "large enough to host the region's largest meetings, such as the annual Caribbean Hotel Marketplace," said prime minister P.J. Patterson during the keynote speech at last week's Marketplace event here.

He said that Mexico's president, Vicente Fox, had confirmed BancoMex's loan for the center; details on size, opening and cost will be released shortly.

The center is sorely needed. This year's Marketplace, held in Jamaica for the first time since the 1980s, "was the largest ever, drawing more than 1,540 delegates from 46 countries," said Berthia Parle, head of the Caribbean Hotel Association (CHA).

Attendance paralleled the "phenomenal growth for the Caribbean in 2004, with an estimated 6% overall visitor increase to 21.6 million and a 12% jump in cruise passengers to 20 million. These figures well surpass 2000, our benchmark year," said Alec Sanguinetti, CHA director general.

In other news:

· More than 12,000 new rooms will open in Jamaica within the next eight years.

· Air Jamaica's new governing board, appointed for six months on term Dec. 23 when the government assumed ownership, "will continue in business,"said Paul Pennicook, Jamaica Tourist Board's director of tourism. "Other than the loss of Antigua service, reduced London flights and three planes cut from service, Air Jamaica's schedule remains intact."

· It's business as usual at Air Jamaica Vacations. "Agents can book with confidence," Pennicook said.

· Grenada is bouncing back from Hurricane Ivan, with more than 50% of its 2,000-room inventory back in operation.

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to[email protected].

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