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TOURISM CONFERENCE EXPECTED TO DRAW 1,000-PLUS

Aug. 29, 2003 – Upwards of a thousand people will visit the territory in the fall to take part in the 26th annual conference of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, set for Oct. 16-18, according to Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards.
The territory is hosting the annual event for the first time. It's to take place at Marriott Frenchman's Reef Beach Resort on St. Thomas.
The membership of the CTO, headquartered in Barbados, is made up mainly of Caribbean governments. The region's private-sector hospitality industry has its own organization, the Caribbean Hotel Association, based in Puerto Rico.
Richards, who is currently vice chair of the CTO, said at a press conference on Thursday that the conference is expected to attract delegations of two to 12 members from the CTO's 32 member governments, about 400 hundred travel agents, some 60 news media representatives, and representatives of a number of airlines and cruise lines.
The conference, she said, will be "bringing together the Caribbean's most influential tourism officials to discuss issues that affect the travel industry."
A number of business sessions will precede the conference on Oct. 13- 15, she said, with participants to include the member states' ministers and directors of tourism and others who serve on the CTO's board of directors and committees.
Richards said her office sent out an "e-mail blast" to 65,000 travel agents to encourage them to register for the conference. The conference costs $40 per day, but travel agents get a 75 percent discount — plus for them, the costs of tours before and after the conference will be subsidized.
Slyma Brown Bramble, CTO deputy director for projects and administration, said she hopes the exposure will enable travel agents to do a better job of promoting the Caribbean product.
The conference includes one free afternoon for attendees to get out and see what "America's Caribbean," as the territory is currently being marketed, has to offer in visitor enticements and amenities.
"We expect wonderful receptions and dining from our host country," Bramble said.
Richards said help is needed from the local community to make that happen. She is especially seeking volunteers to assist with attendees whose language may be other than English.
The conference theme is recovery and growth in a fiercely competitive environment. This is a critical time for the tourism industry, Richards said, and decisions to be made at the gathering will could have a crucial impact on how the Caribbean will fare in the global marketplace.
"We are seeing signs of economic recovery in that market," Karen Ford Warner, CTO deputy chief director, said, referring to the Caribbean. The region is fortunate to be easily accessible to its most important market, the United States, she said: "We are still perceived to be a safe and relaxed place to be, and you can get to us very quickly."
Conference topics include:
– Positioning the Caribbean product for recovery and growth.
– Getting on board: The cruise industry weighs in on recovery and growth.
– Information technology as a tourism builder.
– Developing a marketing strategy.
Rex Nettleford, vice chancellor of the University of the West Indies/Jamaica and a longtime advocate of cultural and heritage tourism, will give the keynote address. Ward praised him as a dynamic speaker who will say exactly what he is thinking.
An internationally known Caribbean scholar, social and cultural historian, and political analyst, Nettleford recently became one of four Rhodes Scholars to receive an honorary doctorate from Oxford University, Ward said.
Richards said the conference currently is estimated to cost the territory about $400,000, "which is money well spent" because "we get exposure as a destination. When we bring 400 travel agents here and show them the product and let them walk around the towns and see our hotels, and visit with people — I think it is a small investment."
Richards said she believes the conference participants will want to experience the individual personalities of each of the U.S. Virgin Islands because "they are as diverse in character as they are in scenic landscapes, actives, and culture."

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