AMBERGRIS CAY, Belize -- Agents who court dive clients will have a new full-service option in their inventory of products when the 265-room Avalon Reef Club, on a barrier reef island off the north coast of Belize, is fully operational in mid-2003.

What agents can sell this winter are the resort's first 28 rooms, which opened in December as phase one of the $40 million-plus project that will be the country's largest hotel.

The 181-room Princess Hotel in Belize City is the largest.

Agents "figure heavily" in Avalon Reef's plans, according to Steve Payne, general manager, who said "commissions will range from 10% to 20%, depending on volume."

The property, located on the former site of the 32-unit Casa Caribe, is 100 yards from a popular dive site known as Mexico Rocks.

Payne said the complex will eventually include a yacht club and marina, a spa, three restaurants, two bars, a dive academy with its own fleet of boats and fishing charters.

Accommodations will be in three-story buildings with one- and two-bedroom units plus 10 villas -- of which three will be in the rental pool.

Once Avalon Reef is up and running, Payne said, the resort will offer inclusive rates that include air transfers from Belize City to San Pedro on Ambergris Cay, six miles from the resort.

The on-site dive academy "will be geared to instruction, education, certification courses up to the level of dive instructor level and packages for guests and corporate clients," Payne said.

The resort's second phase, slated for the fall, will include two restaurants; a themed entertainment center; eco-trails, and the debut of the Reef Yacht Club & Marina, which will feature rental slips for yachts up to 55 feet, a restaurant and other facilities.

Avalon Reef Club is owned by Avalon Resorts, which also has resorts in Mexico and Panama.

A Web site for the resort will debut next April, although agents can access limited information at www.casacaribe.com.

The official reaction from the Belize Tourism Board regarding the new property is "very positive," according to Nicole Usher, marketing representative for the board.

"The opening of a resort this large, with the dive facilities it will offer, will result in a great deal of promotion and publicity for Belize as a whole," Usher said. "The entire destination will benefit, and our visibility, especially in the dive market, will substantially increase," she added. The resort will employ more than 300 people when fully operational.

HOTEL KEY
WINTER RATES: From $240 to $285, per person, double
PHONE: (800) 770-6844
COMMISSION: From 10% to 20%, depending on volume

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