Travel Weekly's Caribbean E-letter: Nov. 20, 2003

THE CARIBBEAN TOURISM ORGANIZATION, in conjunction with Performance Media Group, will launch an incentive program for agents called CaribRewards on Dec. 15. The program will track individual agent bookings and reward those agents -- who sell inventory in a CaribRewards' participating property -- with "Agent Miles" that can be redeemed for merchandise, vacations from participating Caribbean suppliers, client gifts and/or gift certificates. More than 34,000 agents and 25 boutique and chain hotels on 16 islands are enrolled in the program. Mark Murphy, PMG president and CEO, said "CaribRewards is not a booking engine ... [but] an agent loyalty program whose goal is to drive more bookings to the Caribbean by rewarding individual agents for selling participating (or featured) hotels." For details, visit www.caribrewards.com.

A DEAL between a developer and a citizens group in St. Thomas cleared the way for a $150 million redevelopment of the former Yacht Haven Hotel and surrounding waterfront property near the cruise ship piers in downtown Charlotte Amalie. The hotel has been an eyesore on the waterfront since being damaged by Hurricane Marilyn in 1995. The agreement between Insignia Nautica-USVI and the Save Long Bay Coalition, which had challenged Insignia's Coastal Zone Management permit, commits Insignia to improving a park and public housing near the hotel and adding more pedestrian walkways from the waterfront to downtown. The redevelopment project will raze the derelict hotel and build a 160-slip marina, a yacht club, a 120-room hotel, a conference center and retail and office space.

MOST AMERICANS, who may have visions of sampling Cuba's beaches and visiting Hemingway's Havana haunts, can hold off on their Cuba travel plans for now. Congressional conference committee negotiators nixed a provision in an appropriations bill that would have permitted unrestricted tourist travel to Cuba. President Kennedy initiated the travel ban 40 years ago, and President Bush promised to veto the Transportation and Treasury appropriations bill if the Cuba travel measure reached the Oval Office.

LODGEPODGE...

... AT HALF MOON MONTEGO BAY in Jamaica, a recent $8 million facelift included demolition of the Hibiscus Wing to make room for 68 new rooms and suites, each with a verandah or balcony, data port internet access, an electronic safe and other amenities. The rebuilt wing, which will open by the end of the year, features an enlarged main pool with a swim-up bar and waterfall. The resort also opened a teaching facility for the David Leadbetter Golf Academy at the pro shop and expanded the outdoor function area at the Half Moon shopping village.

... MANDARA SPA, the resort spa division of Steiner Leisure, an international spa services provider, will build and operate a 7,000-square-foot luxury spa with 11 treatment rooms, a meditation area, and a fitness center at the 600-room Westin Rio Mar Beach Resort in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico. The facility is slated to open next fall.

... MEXICO-BASED PALACE RESORTS plans to open an all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, in 2005. The firm recently took over the former Renaissance Grand Beach resort in St. Thomas -- renaming it Grand Bay Palace -- and converted it to an all-inclusive property.

... BUCUTI BEACH RESORT in Aruba broke ground on phase two of its 39 new Tiara Suites, which will open in March.

... THE CARIBE HILTON in San Juan has set December 2004 as the completion date for 168 lagoon villas in the 264-villa Paseo Caribe development. Once the second phase is finished in December 2005, the Caribe Hilton will total 910 rooms, making it the island's largest property.

WHOOPS!
• The 30-minute cable TV show that is a component of the new Caribbean Escapes Collection, a by-invitation-only select list of 100 deluxe properties on 25 Caribbean islands, will air in 225 cities starting in April to showcase the collection's destinations and resorts. We mistakenly reported in the Nov. 13 Caribbean E-Letter that the show would air in just two cities.

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