FAJARDO, Puerto Rico -- Diversity, unity and ingenuity will be the driving forces of the two-year term of Simon Suarez, new head of the Caribbean Hotel Association.

Suarez, executive vice president of Coral Hotels & Resorts in the Dominican Republic, took over the reins from Ralph Taylor, immediate past president of CHA and chairman of Almond Resorts in Barbados, at the recent Caribbean Hotel Industry Conference here.

Suarez is the first Spanish-speaking president of CHA, and he delivered his inaugural address in three languages (Spanish, French and English).

He called for unity within the Caribbean to lead advances in the tourism industry and for ingenuity to help meet future challenges.

"Without ingenuity, we are routine, and routine without ingenuity will make us fall," Suarez said. He urged hoteliers and tourism officials to "think outside the box" and to re-examine traditional methods of problem-solving.

The new CHA head also urged development of a private-sector-led initiative to establish a capital fund for financing the Caribbean hospitality industry.

He said he seeks to create partnerships with the cruise industry in marketing and environmental standards, and he challenged delegates to channel the resources of chain hotels to improve the hospitality product.

Wyndham El Conquistador Resort & Country Club in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, an hour's drive east of San Juan, was the venue for the recent Caribbean Hotel Industry Conference. The theme of this year's conference, which attracted more than 860 delegates, was Bertia Parle, newly elected CHA 1st vice-president for the 2002-2004 term, called on Caribbean countries "to come together rather than compete against one another" to win new markets for the region.

Parle, owner of Bay Gardens Hotel in St. Lucia, said that although business is "rebounding now following Sept. 11, we were caught with our pants down."

In other conference news:

• The first component of the $16 million regional public-private sector marketing effort, "Life Needs the Caribbean," gets off the ground July 31, to be followed later this fall and winter on additional U.S. television stations and in the U.K. and in Europe.

The eight-week, $4.6 million cable TV campaign on 14 U.S. stations will carry the tag line "Ask your travel agent," a toll-free phone number and a Web site booking address.

Expedia is field-testing a private booking engine that will enable agents to book Caribbean packages directly from the Web site link by the end of the year.

The four commercials, which were shot in the Bahamas, Dominica and New York, feature images of the Caribbean, including a diver, a waterfall and a small boat in the water.

Soundtracks from subways and freeways juxtapose the hustle and bustle of metropolitan life with the tranquility and quiet of the Caribbean.

• Speaking at an industry panel that examined the "Life Needs the Caribbean" campaign, Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, director general of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, told CHIC delegates that sustaining the marketing effort is critical to the campaign's ongoing success.

He urged hotels and governments who had not already committed funds to the marketing campaign to do so. "You have to pay to play," Vanderpool-Wallace said.

• The future of Caribbean tourism and the new face of the North American marketplace -- altered by the economy, the aftermath of Sept. 11 and new consumer behavior -- also were hot topics.

According to a study conducted by Yesawich, Pepperdine and Brown, the biggest growth markets in the tourism industry today are travel with children and niche markets, such as ecotourism, weddings, dive, minorities, reunions, golf and handicapped travel.

Peter Yesawich, chief executive officer of YPB, said price and value drive today's consumers' travel decisions, as well. In a flurry of statistics, Yesawich reported that 53% of today's consumers use the Web to plan or purchase travel and that 59% plan to vacation close to home this year.

• Bill Silvermintz, vice president of marketing for the Americas for the Barbados Tourism Authority, discussed challenges facing today's market.

Visitor numbers for Barbados have improved on a month-to-month basis since last fall's steep downturns. "Our February and March figures were up over the same months last year," Silvermintz said. "We were down in April, but up again in May and June."

To spur the marketplace and travel agent bookings, the BTA recently introduced its Best of Barbados seven-night summer promotion, offered by 30 U.S. wholesalers at 45 hotels through Dec. 14. The rate, which starts at $585 per person, includes discounted air, hotel accommodations with breakfast and a free day's use of a car when three days are paid.

A $2.3 million ad campaign, which ran through June and picks up again in mid-August to mid-October in key Northeast and Florida markets, will keep Barbados "top of mind," Silvermintz said.

Group presents annual awards

FAJARDO, Puerto Rico -- Accolades and awards were handed out to industry hoteliers on all levels during the Caribbean Hotel Industry Conference.

Allen Chastanet, Air Jamaica's vice president of marketing and sales, was named Allied Member of the Year. Chastanet is one of the architects of the "Life Needs the Caribbean" regional marketing initiative and head of CHA's marketing committee.

Named by CHA as Hotelier of the Year was Ewald Biemans of Bucuti Beach Resort in Aruba. Employee of the Year was Harold Shepherd of Sandpiper Hotel in Barbados, and Alfredo Camacho of the Ritz-Carlton San Juan Hotel & Casino took home the Supervisor of the Year award.

Others who received accolades included St. Vincent's Dawn Smith, Small Hotel Association's Executive of the Year, and Camille Needham of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourism Association, who was awarded honors for larger associations.

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