Travel Weekly's Caribbean E-letter: March 18, 2004

SPONGEBOB SquarePants, the Nickelodeon character that kids soak up 24/7, is a key component of a new partnership between the Cayman Islands and the children's cable TV network. The idea is to shore up the destination's position as a family vacation market. Nickelodeon will sponsor many of the activities at the new Cayman Islands Sea School for kids and parents, set for June 1 to Sept. 6 on Grand Cayman. Free classes twice a week will focus on the destination's marine environment; participants will receive a "diploma" from SpongeBob upon completion. Nickelodeon's "SpongeBob SquarePants: The Movie" opens in the U.S. Nov. 19 and a few days later in the Cayman Islands.

STARWOOD HOTELS & RESORTS, under its Sheraton banner, will operate the flagship property at San Juan's new convention center, set to open next year. The 500-room, $175 million hotel will break ground at the end of the year with a projected opening date in 2007. Hyatt and Marriott also were selected as finalists in December, along with Starwood, to bid on the project.

TOURIST OFFICE TIDBITS
• The Aruba Tourism Authority reminds its ACE (Aruba Certified Expert) agents to fax their monthly tracking report forms no later than the 15th of the following month (for example: the March 2004 production report form should be submitted no later than April 15). Fax the form to (800) 434-5781; copies of the form can be downloaded at http://email.aruba.com/production/rewards.html. Based on production, ACE agents are eligible to earn co-op ad and promotion funds, free room nights and travel to Aruba.
• The Puerto Rico Tourism Co. and four of its wholesale partners -- American Airlines Vacations, Classic Custom Vacations, Continental Vacations and Delta Vacations -- will award four-night trips for two to Puerto Rico with air fare, hotel and rental car to the agents who book the most room nights in March for travel from April 12 to Aug. 1 for a minimum of three nights. Winners also receive $500 spending money in the form of a pre-charged American Express card. For details, visit www.gotopuertorico.com.

GOOD NEWS FOR GRENADA: Visitor arrivals in January increased to 59,448, a 59% jump versus the same month a year ago. The figure includes overnight stays and cruise passengers. While stay-over visitors from the U.S. increased more than 8%, cruise passenger arrivals jumped more than 91%.

TAKEOFFS
• The third incarnation of Pan Am will debut May 27 when it begins scheduled service from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Port of Spain, Trinidad; Basseterre, St. Kitts; Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; and Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. The carrier already offers charters from Fort Lauderdale to Port of Spain.
• Continental will launch daily nonstop service between Newark and Punta Cana June 10, subject to government approval. On the same date, the carrier will offer nonstop service four times a week between Houston and Montego Bay, Jamaica, and then on to Port of Spain.
• US Airways will launch nonstop Saturday service June 12 between New York [LaGuardia] and St. Thomas. The carrier currently operates 16 weekly flights from its Philadelphia and Charlotte, N.C., gateways to St. Croix and St. Thomas.
• Delta's new routes from New York [Kennedy] include Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, beginning June 1 and San Juan beginning April 4.

ROLODEX
• The Puerto Rico Convention Bureau named Ana Maria Viscasillas acting executive director; the slot had been vacant since Jorge Pesquera left the post last month to head the Aruba Hotel & Tourism Association. Viscasillas has been with the bureau for 10 years, most recently as vice president of marketing.
• Viola Albert, restaurant manager at Bolongo Bay Beach Club in St. Thomas, was named Employee of the Year by the St. Thomas-St. John Hotel & Tourism Association. The award makes Albert eligible for the Caribbean Hotel Association's top employee honor, which will be presented at CHA's annual industry conference June13 to 16 in Puerto Rico. Albert has been with Bolongo for 30 years.
• Hilton Caribbean named Charles Muller general manager of the Hilton Santo Domingo, which opens this summer, and Marilyn Snoper general manager of the Hilton Barbados, which opens late this year.

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