Travel Weekly's Caribbean E-letter: Dec. 18, 2003

THE BAHAMAS unveiled a $15 million brand identity overhaul designed to make the 700-island chain stand out from the rest of the sun-and-fun Caribbean crowd, according to tourism officials. The marketing effort features a new logo, a new ad campaign and a revamped Web site [www.bahamas.com] with online booking functionality, as well as an emphasis on island hopping between more popular Nassau and Grand Bahama Island and the less-visited Out, or Family, Islands. Minister of tourism Obediah Wilchcombe said the Bahamas needed a stronger presence in the online marketplace, where he estimates travel sales totaling approximately $43 million by the end of the year. "The new Bahamas.com is a tremendous opportunity for all our island partners to compete for lucrative online travel business," he said, noting that "hundreds of independent hotels and vendors" will benefit most. Bahamian culture, history, society, cuisine, and varied activities loom large in the campaign as factors that distinguish the destination from others in the Caribbean, Wilchcombe said.

CLUB MED launched a Web site [www.clubmedgroups.com] for group- and incentive-travel planners. John Vanderslice, president and CEO of Club Med Americas, said the site, which provides access to listings and information on Club Med destinations worldwide, "is another example of our strategy to grow the group and incentive business throughout North America." The site offers virtual tours, an online brochure, quote requests and promotions. Club Med has more than 200 conference rooms in 36 countries and offers a Rent-A-Village program where large groups can book an entire Club Med facility.

THE LONG-AWAITED CASINO at the Westin and Sheraton at Our Lucaya on Grand Bahama Island opened Dec. 15, boasting 35,000 square feet of gaming space outfitted with 400 slot machines, 21 game tables and a 110-person bistro and bar. The casino, operated by regional gaming firm Isle of Capri Casinos, also features high-limit slots and table game rooms with VIP-lounge food and beverage services. The Isle of Capri Casino is open from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 a.m. daily, with slot machines operating 24 hours on weekends. For more information on the casino, call (888) 687-4753. For more on the 372-acre Westin and Sheraton at Our Lucaya Beach and Golf Resort, visit www.westin.com/ourlucaya or www.sheraton.com/ourlucaya.

VIRTUOSO TAPPED ISLAND DESTINATIONS as its preferred luxury-tour operator for its network of more than 6,000 travel specialists in the Americas. Island Destinations' portfolio includes 50 hotels and resorts and 40 luxury villas in Bermuda, the Caribbean, Costa Rica, Fiji, French Polynesia and Mexico. At the same time, Virtuoso severed its preferred-supplier relationship with Classic Custom Vacations, saying Classic's parent company, InterActiveCorp is bent on usurping Virtuoso's relationships with agents' clients and suppliers. Ron Letterman, chairman of Classic, labeled Virtuoso's statement "inaccurate and misrepresents our motivations with regard to the travel agent community."

MORE TOUR TIDBITS
• Apple Vacations now offers 39 flights a week from U.S. gateways to Punta Cana, Puerto Plata and La Romana in the Dominican Republic in addition to its programs on scheduled carriers. The operator expects to carry more than 145,000 passengers to the DR this winter. For details, visit www.applevacations.com.
• Pleasant Holidays and the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino offer a fifth night free on five-night packages in 2004 that includes daily breakfasts and transfers as well as discounted meals for children under 12. The five-night, land-only rate starts at $816 per person, double, representing savings of $390 per couple. To book, call (800) 448-3333.
• Air Jamaica Vacations' new 1% commission bonus brings the total commission to 14% for agents booking via VAX VacationAccess and the GDSs, when the inventory becomes available in the res systems. The bonus applies to all bookings made through March 31. AJV's latest tour system electronic booking upgrade permits 24/7 access and includes the lowest fare finder technology available, according to Bryan Shilling, president.

LODGEPODGE
• St. James's Club, St. Lucia offers up to 30% off and a free night for seven-night inclusive stays through April 1. The discounted rate starts at $975 per person, double. Stays of five or six nights also earn a free night and a 25% discount. To book, call (800) 345-0356.
• The Body Holiday at LeSport in St. Lucia will host its first yoga week Jan. 11 to 18 and will feature instruction, classes, lectures and other group sessions. The plan is priced from $2,240 per person, double; visit www.thebodyholiday.com to book.
• The 32-room Mount Nevis Hotel and Beach Club on Nevis, which recently completed an upgrade, will match the number of paid nights with same number of free nights, starting with a minimum of three paid nights for stays through Jan. 31 in a superior suite. Rates start at $300 a night, plus tax. The resort also is offering two free roundtrip tickets on Winair from St. Martin. For details, visit www.mountnevishotel.com.
• Barbados' 72-room Fairmont Royal Pavilion celebrates the completion of its five-month refurbishment project with a free night when four are booked for stays from Jan. 2 through Feb. 29 at a rate of $689 per night, double. More information is available at www.fairmont.com.
• San Juan's 84-room Water Club has a new two-night romance package that includes a deluxe oceanfront room, champagne and strawberries on arrival, continental breakfasts for two, a keepsake souvenir and a free night for those who return the following year on their anniversary. The rate is $699 per couple, including food and beverage gratuities. For reservations, call (888) 265-6699.

ROLODEX
• Frank Christopher Lewis was appointed leisure manager at the Radisson Cable Beach & Golf Resort in Nassau. Lewis is responsible for the daily operations of the resort's newly renovated 18-hole golf course.
• Raffles Resort at Canouan Island, the Grenadines, tapped Louis Sailer general manager. The 156-room property -- Raffles' first in the Caribbean -- is scheduled to open in the summer. Sailer is a 24-year hospitality veteran, and joined Raffles International in 1997.

SORRY ABOUT THAT!

The correct Web site address for the St. Lucia Jazz Festival, May 7-16 in St. Lucia, is www.stluciajazz.org. We had it wrong in the Dec. 4 Caribbean E-Letter.

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