Travel Weekly's Caribbean E-Letter: September 5, 2002

AMERICAN EXPRESS is going after the affluent travel market with its new Extraordinary Caribbean Escapes program, launched Sept. 1 and valid through Dec. 31, 2003, with five wholesalers and 40 resorts in the Caribbean, Bermuda and Central America. The program features high-end resort packages and value-added components worth $250 or more, such as couples' massages, spa treatments or golf outings. American Express cardholders who book by the end of this year receive double Membership Rewards points. Wholesalers are Air Jamaica Vacations, American Airlines Vacations, Classic Custom Vacations, Gogo Worldwide Vacations and Travel Impressions.

SEPTEMBER is Travel Agents Month in Puerto Rico, according to the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. and the Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Assn. Agents with valid ID or IATAN numbers are eligible for discounted nightly rates ranging from $39 to $69, double, at 52 hotels and paradors islandwide. Agents who are certified as Puerto Rico Travel Experts receive the highest discounts. For a list of participating properties, contact PRTC at (800) 866-7827.

VISITOR GAINS
• Curacao posted a 6.9% increase in U.S. visitors from January through May, compared with the same period a year ago, according to figures supplied by the Curacao Tourism Development Board.
• Grenada posted a 10% jump in U.S. visitors in the second quarter of the year, compared to the same period in 2001. First-quarter increases topped 16% over a year ago. Total number of U.S. visitors from January through June were 20,530.

MERMAID Fast Ferries launched year-round interisland ferry service between St. Croix and St. Thomas, with two 90-minute crossings a day aboard the Norwegian-built Calypso I. Roundtrip fares on the 357-passenger catamaran are $50 on the Ensign deck and $65 on the Admiral deck. Another company, V.I. Fast Ferry, plans to resume its seasonal service between the two islands in November aboard its 600-passenger Salacia catamaran. Roundtrip fares are $65 for residents and $75 for nonresidents.

LODGEPODGE
• Miami-based Tecton Hospitality, which recently signed a management contract with the Hotel Excelsior in San Juan, added the 84-room Water Club, also in San Juan, to its portfolio. The beachfront boutique property -- the former Colonial Hotel -- opened last December, following a massive renovation and redo. David Kurland is vp and managing partner of both hotels.
• Agents booking Bolongo Bay Beach Club, St. Thomas, through Nov. 1 earn 10% commission plus Bolongo Bucks cash bonuses of $50 to $150 for bookings made through the resort's toll-free res number. Travel is valid through Nov. 1. Agents can book clients on the resort's semi-inclusive Continental Plan or its inclusive program. To book, call (800) 524-4746.
• ATA Vacations has Saturday departures this winter from Chicago (Midway) for seven-night air and hotel packages to the Occidental Grand, Aruba, from $1,059 and Treasure Island, Grand Cayman, from $929. Three-night programs departing Thursdays to the Shaw Park Beach Hotel, Jamaica, start at $494. Prices are per person, double, and valid for travel from Jan. 6 to Feb. 28. Taxes are extra. Book through VAX VacationAccess at www.vacationaccess.com.
• September is Travel Agent Month at Viva Resorts' six inclusive properties in the Bahamas, Dominican Republic and Mexico with rates from $40 per person, per night, double, for travel through Sept. 30. Agents must present a valid Iatan or ARC number at the time of booking. For reservations, call (800) 898-9968. Also, all bookings through Dec. 23 for travel from Sept. 1 to Dec. 23 earn 15% commission.
• Club Med's 264-room Columbus Isle property in the Bahamas, which has been closed since last October, will reopen in December. New weekly charter flights will depart from New York (JFK) starting Dec. 7. Inclusive seven-night air and land rates this winter start at $1,410 per adult, $934 for ages 2 to 15.

THE JAMAICA Tourist Board will kick off a $2.6 million cable TV and consumer print ad campaign Sept. 23, according to Fay Pickersgill, director of tourism. The ads will continue the modernized "One Love" theme, featuring the Bob Marley classic performed by contemporary Jamaican artist Abijah, that began airing this spring in a $2.5 million campaign. Three agent fam trips, hosting up to 200 agents each weekend, are planned in October to Montego Bay, Negril and Ocho Rios.

AIR BYTES
• US Airways will launch daily flights between Charlotte, N.C., and San Jose, Costa Rica, in January.
• Delta Connection began jet service between Orlando and Nassau, Bahamas, using Bombardier CRJ regional jets.
• Antigua-based Caribbean Star Airlines received the approval of Trinidad and Tobago's Air Transport Licensing Authority to inaugurate up to five daily flights linking Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago.

PENCIL IT IN
• Independence Day, Sept. 21, Belize.
• Divali Hindu Festival of Lights, Nov. 4, Trinidad and Tobago.
• Reggae Marathon, Dec. 7, Negril, Jamaica.

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