THE VALLEY, Anguilla -- Anguilla's first-quarter tourism picture is robust, according to visitor statistics that reveal an overall 14% increase over the same three-month period a year ago. Month by month increases registered 14% in January, 16% in February and 13% in March.

The upswing follows "good performance in visitor arrivals in the latter part of 2003," according to tourism officials.

The Ministry of Tourism breaks visitor figures into two groups: tourists (overnight stays) and excursionists (daytrippers, most of whom come over from St. Martin by ferry for the day).

Tourist arrivals numbered close to 16,000, the highest arrival figures recorded since 1999, when 16,395 tourists visited.

Hurricane Lenny in November 1999 and the events of 9/11 "indicate that it takes quite some time for the industry to recover from natural disasters and economic shocks that affect the world," a spokesman said.

Close to 50% of tourists arrived by air in the first quarter, a 3% dip from last year. The rest of the stayover visitors arrived by ferry from St. Martin.

Tourists spent more money this year, although they stayed a shorter time -- 7.7 days on average as compared to 9.4 days last year.

Cruise traffic also was up, with 33 small-sized ships visiting Anguilla between January and March with an overall total of 4,040 passengers, compared to 1,382 passengers who arrived on 24 vessels in the same period last year.

Hoping to ride the crest of visitor interest, Anguilla's hotels have rolled out a summer's worth of lower rates and package deals for couples and families.

"Our summers are the same as our winters, thanks to trade winds. The only differences that summer visitors discover are our rates," according to Amelia Vanterpool-Kubisch, director of the Anguilla Tourist Board.

A swim with a dolphin at Anguilla's Dolphin Fantaseas is included in Meads Bay Hideaways' summer package plan. The package deals are impressive. Giveaways include a week's worth of free accommodations when two weeks are booked at Rendezvous Bay through Nov. 15 (rates from $910 per person, double). A free upgrade from a suite to penthouse suite and a complimentary swim with the dolphins at Dolphin Fantaseas are offered at Meads Bay Hideaways.

Cap Juluca capitalizes on the link between gourmet cuisine and Anguilla with a Wine and Food Lovers five-night gastronomic getaway that features a noted American or French guest chef; beachfront accommodations with continental breakfast; wine and hors d'oeuvres on arrival; two dinners for two at the resort's restaurants; a chef's dinner for two; the choice of private beach dining or a second chef's dinner or a cooking class; a snorkeling trip; and transfers, tax, and service charges.

Per couple rates begin at $2,765 July 16 through 18 with David Waltuck, chef/owner of New York's Chantarelle restaurants or Aug. 27 through 29 with Mark Militello, chef/owner of four south Florida Mark's restaurants.

Rates for the Nov. 19 to 21 package with Michel Del Burgo from the Chantecler restaurant at the Hotel Negresco in Nice, France, or the Dec. 3 to 5 plan with Roberto Donna, chef/owner of Washington's Galileo restaurant, start at $3,190 per couple. To book a package, call (888) 858-5822.

Altamer Resort Villas, which opens its third deluxe property in September, has a special summer rate of $2,500 per night for its three-bedroom villa that sleeps up to six. Facilities include a pool, a home theater, a sound system, high-speed Internet, a fitness center, marble baths and a full staff. For details, visit www.altamer.com.

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

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