PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos -- At a time when other tourist offices are downsizing operations and consolidating locations, the Turks and Caicos Islands Tourist Board will open its first offices in New York and London in June.

Tourism personnel will share the space with officials representing the investment and real estate end of the Turks and Caicos economy, certainly a lucrative sector given the current state of resort, villa and condominium developments.

The tourist board already has a U.S. office in Fort Lauderdale.

Ralph Higgs, deputy director of tourism, said that "the exposure to and the visibility of our tourism and investment products are key to maintaining and increasing our market share."

The opening of offices in key gateway cities follows a plan laid out by Michael Eugene Misick, who took office last December as chief minister of the Turks and Caicos as well as minister of tourism.

Higgs said that more than 60% of the destination's guests return as repeat visitors, and "many decide to buy property."

U.S. visitors, who account for more than 70% of all air arrivals -- and most are from the Northeast -- totalled close to 130,000 in 2003, up by 10,000 over the previous year.

Increases in airlift from the U.S. "have matched our tourism growth," Higgs said.

Build it and they will come

Hotel and resort development is keeping pace, as well. Inventory totals 2,200 guest rooms with more on the way.

Grace Bay Club, for example, is adding 38 two- and three-bedroom villas to its inventory of 21 luxury suites. The new villas, in four buildings adjacent to the resort, will open in September 2005.

The $25 million Amanyara Resort on Providenciales' northwest coast will feature 40 luxury suites, 34 villas and a recording studio. The hotel and phase one of the villas will open in December 2005.

Cruise traffic also is growing, rising 15% last year to 25,000 passengers who disembarked in Grand Turk, the capital of the 40-island chain. Officials project an even larger increase this year.

Meanwhile, a $35 million port facility, which represents a joint venture with Carnival Cruise Lines, is under construction in Grand Turk and expects to welcome its flew slew of cruise ships in November 2005.

"Until recently we wanted to stay away from the cruise ship invasion, but it is too important a market for us," according to Higgs.

The tourist board will launch a trade and consumer marketing campaign by June that may feature a new tagline to replace "Beautiful by Nature."

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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