Officials optimistic about Caribbean season

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NEW YORK--Caribbean tourism ministers from storm-damaged islands painted an optimistic picture of the upcoming winter season at a press conference here hosted by the Caribbean Tourism Organization and the Caribbean Hotel Association.

Dr. Rodney Williams, minister of tourism for Antigua and Barbuda, forecast "a rapid and thorough recovery," and his comment was reinforced by most of the ministers in attendance.

With electricity, power, water and telephone lines restored, roads cleared and harbors and airports intact on most of the islands, hotel repairs and reopenings are now the chief focus. Simon Suarez, president of the Dominican Republic's Tourism Promotion Council, reported "no lost charters, packages or cancellations." The bulk of U.S. visitors to the Dominican Republic stay in the Puerto Plata area on the north coast, which was unaffected by the storm.

Tourism officials from Puerto Rico emphasized that San Juan's tourism plant is up and running. The Puerto Rico Tourism Co. will launch an ad campaign next week highlighting the island's recovery.

The U.S. Virgin Islands, which suffered little damage, is fearful that jittery agents might lump the destination into the "damaged" arena. Officials have mounted an extensive promotion and marketing campaign to counter that fear.

St. Kitts, where 70% of the private homes took a direct hit, will introduce a travel agent incentive program set to last 15 weeks. "We hope this will encourage retailers to support tourism," said Hilary Watling, tourism director of St. Kitts and Nevis. "Hotel repairs are under way, and we'll be back in business for the winter season."

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