VIEQUES, Puerto Rico -- I visited a new hotel in a new destination -- one that could become a very "hot" island, if recent visitor interest translates to future bookings.

Wyndham Martineau Bay Resort & Spa had a soft opening in February and officially opened its doors in May on a 42-acre site near the tiny but modern airport on Vieques.

May was the same month that the U.S. Navy departed the island after a 62-year visit, marred frequently by bombing runs, protests, arrests and headlines.

The resort's 156 rooms did more than double the island's guest-room capacity, which previously totaled 72 rooms in a mix of bed-and-breakfast units, guest houses and small inns.

More than 50 deserted beaches ring the island of Vieques, which offers snorkeling and dive tours, kayak rentals and fishing charters. Wyndham's presence on Vieques signaled the arrival of a flagship hotel company whose resort opening catapulted Vieques into the tourist limelight for a change.

Ben Tutt, general manager, viewed the timing as "very propitious" for both Wyndham and Vieques.

"This is a unique turn of events," Tutt said. "How often does a new Caribbean destination emerge -- at the same time that a top hotel opens on that island? These events represent a great opportunity for all of us."

Wyndham's hotel -- its seventh in Puerto Rico and its 12th in the Caribbean -- is named after the bay it fronts, which, in turn, was named for a Frenchman who once owned the island.

Dallas-based Rosewood Hotels & Resorts formerly held a minority stake in the oceanfront property. Construction began in 1998, but the property never opened under the Rosewood banner due to legal disputes.

When Wyndham acquired the management contract in February, it also acquired Rosewood's furnishings, decor elements and guest rooms, which, at more than 600 square feet each for a standard room, are "among the largest hotel rooms in the Caribbean," according to Tutt.

They're also among the most expensively decorated: Tutt said that each room represented a cost of $18,500 in furnishings and amenities.

Spanish and French accent pieces, tile floors, wrought-iron lamps, a Jacuzzi-style bathtub with a view through the bedroom's sliding glass door of the sea beyond, and comfortable lounges on each balcony are not typical touches at most Caribbean resorts.

Guest rooms are scattered about in two-story, four-unit pastel buildings, overlooking the sea, pool or gardens.

Tutt said there are "a lot of pieces we are still working on, but we will be 100% ready by the start of the winter season. The casino, Kids Club, room service and menus and cuisine all will be in place. We've already taken a lot of advance reservations."

This summer, many of the guests are from San Juan, curious to visit Vieques, which they call Isla Nena (Little Girl Island).

"We want them to discover this island -- if they've not been here before -- or rediscover it, and we'll offer them the Wyndham experience at the same time," Tutt said. "We're selling the peace and tranquility of Vieques as much as we are selling our own resort."

Is it difficult to sell a new hotel and a new destination at the same time?

Tutt said that "confusion about Vieques is pretty evident from the telephone queries we get. Some agents and guests are worried that beaches are closed, waters are contaminated and the island is not safe."

He assured them that most of the beaches are open and their waters are not contaminated (waters are being tested at the sites not open to the public, where the U.S. Navy held bombing practices), that driving on Vieques is safe and easy (the island is 21 miles long by four miles wide) and that visitors are very welcome.

Tutt recommended that agents book car rentals in advance since there is a shortage of cars on the island.

And, at the end of a day of sightseeing, driving, diving or beaching it, a sunset cocktail on Wyndham's terrace awaits.

Wyndham Martineu Bay Resort & Spa
State Road 200, Vieques, Puerto Rico 00765
Phone: (787)741-4100
Reservations: (800) WYNDHAM
General manager: Ben Tutt
No. of rooms: 156 rooms, including 20 suites.
Opened: Soft opening in February 2003; official opening in May 2003.
Location: The resort sits on 42 acres on the north (Atlantic) shore of Vieques, seven miles off the eastern coast of mainland Puerto Rico, and a five-minute drive from Antonio Rivera Rodriguez Airport.
Facilities: A spa and fitness center, infinity pool, tennis courts, the Meeting House for small groups, two restaurants and a lounge, two beaches, water sports and a nearby car rental facility. Still to come are 24-hour room service, a Kids Club and a small casino by year's end. An 18-hole Pete Dye-designed golf course opens in two years.
Rates: Through Sept. 30, from $250 per night, double, with breakfast, welcome drink and a 50% discount on meals for up to two children under 12 years old.
Noteworthy: Ocean views from every room, enthusiastic staff and unusual decor.
Not worthy: Balconies are in full view of neighbors on either side. Privacy screens are needed plus a screen door between sliding door and room -- mosquitoes are large and hungry.

Sales pitch
• Send a Wyndham Martineau Bay CD-rom to potential clients so that they have a virtual tour of the resort in advance.
• Tap into the 'undiscovered destination' aspect combined with the familiarity of Wyndham's standards.
• Enroll clients in the WyndhamByRequest guest recognition program, which tailors individual guests' preferences to a Wyndham stay.

Get More!
For more details on this article, see Vieques, P.R.: Forts, diving, art and a bioluminescent bay.

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI