Turks and Caicos offers certified course on line

NEW YORK -- Tourism officials from the Turks and Caicos who met late last month with New York-area agents brought good news of additional flights, increased visitor figures and a new online travel agent training course.

American Airlines added two more weekly flights from New York (Kennedy) to Providenciales on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, bringing the total to four roundtrip flights a week from New York year-round.

These flights operate Thursdays through Sundays. In addition, American operates three daily flights from Miami to Providenciales.

John Skippings, director of tourism, said visitor figures for 2001 jumped 11% over the previous year when 151,000 arrivals were processed.

"Last year's increase occurred, despite the effects of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11," Skippings said.

The beaches and waters of the Turks and Caicos are a top attraction for visitors. Above, Grace Bay Beach on Providenciales. He estimated that the 2001 figures might have equaled or topped the 25% jump posted in 2000 over 1999.

Tourist board figures also indicated that 65% of the arrivals were repeat visitors; close to 40% of the total arrivals were in the Turks and Caicos to attend meetings or to conduct business.

Skippings predicted an increase in arrivals this year due to the scheduled growth in air traffic as well as renovations and hotel developments in the islands and the new online agent training course, called TCI Expert, launched in late January.

The course has been approved by the Institute of Certified Travel Agents for six continuing education units toward an agent's Certified Travel Counselor and Certified Travel Associate programs.

Skippings described the TCI Expert as a self-test program available through the tourist board Web site.

Agents access the program via the TCI link in the travel agents-only section of the Web site.

"The section provides agents with detailed information on accommodations, island activities, weddings, honeymoons and historical facts," Skippings said.

As an incentive, agents who score higher than 90% in the course are eligible for an orientation trip that includes visits to at least three of the eight inhabited islands, guided tours and site inspections.

"TCI Expert is an excellent program for off-island tourism professionals," Skippings said.

"Agents learn more in their own time at their own pace and are better able to sell our destination to clients."

Recent resort developments include:

• Parrot Cay's investment of more than $2.7 million to expand its spa.
• The addition of a spa and beachside sushi bar at Coral Gardens.
• A new thalassotherapy spa at Point Grace.
• The addition of a delicatessen, a spa, a fitness room and a designer shop at the Sands.

Several dive operators have expanded their operations, including Oasis Divers, which purchased a 38-foot vessel for whale-watching and a device called Drager Re-breather to ensure quiet dives.

"Diving is a major attraction in the Turks and Caicos," Skippings said. "We have the third largest reef system in the world, packed with a wide range of marine life."

For additional information, visit the tourist board's Web site, which can be found at www.turksandcaicostourism.com.

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