Jammin' Upscale - 2006-04-17

The weather in the Caribbean isn't changing, but the climate for incentive travel certainly is. Corporate America's continuing focus on value has strengthened demand from U.S.–based groups, and suppliers are responding with new resorts and increased airlift.

Getting to the islands has become both more convenient and more affordable, with a flurry of announcements in the past six months, of new routes and better rates.

"There have been a lot of new routes and airlines going into the Caribbean, and lots of good fares," says George Hobica, whose Web site, Airfarewatchdog.com, tracks routes and fares from U.S. cities. Detroit–based discounter Spirit Airlines added several new U.S.-Caribbean itineraries in late fall, further deflating prices to the islands. Around the same time, Continental announced plans to increase Caribbean routes. The investment on the airlines' part is supported by an growing array of luxury accommodations.

Here's a look at hotel news from around the Caribbean:

Aruba: The former Allegro-branded resort reopens this May as the Occidental Grand Aruba Resort, after an infusion of $24 million. The 391-room luxury all-inclusive will offer guests seven different restaurants. The Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort & Casino will undergo a $20 million refurbishing, beginning in June and ending this fall.

Bahamas: Ground is broken on Baha Mar, the $1.6 billion project from Starwood, Harrah's and Baha Mar Development Company, with six hotels on 1,000 acres. Properties include a St. Regis, W, Westin, Sheraton and a Caesars Resort Hotel and Casino, in addition to a spa, a water park, upscale retail shops and a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course. Atlantis Paradise Island opens a 600-unit all-suite hotel in 2007. Other projects include a new convention center and an expansion of the Mandara Spa. This winter saw the completion of a spectacular golf course, the Abaco Club at Winding Bay.The Westin and Sheraton Grand Bahama at Our Lucaya just re-opened the 200 rooms at Lighthouse Point after a makeover that enhanced the rooms and improved the grounds. Ritz-Carlton will open a new property on the Bahamas' Rose Island in 2009.

Curacao: Due in 2007, the Hyatt Regency Curacao, will have 350 rooms.

Dominican Republic: The Sivory Punta Cana in Ulvero Alto opened in December 2005 with 55 luxury suites.

Grand Cayman: The 365-room Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman opened in December.

St. Marten: The Sonesta Maho Beach Resort & Casino in St. Maarten is offering groups of 10 or more a rebate of $200 per person to offset airfare. The "In Your Pocket" promotion is for travel from May to December of 2006 and 2007.

Trinidad and Tobago: The new Hyatt Regency Trinidad will open in 2007 with 428 rooms and 43,000 square feet of meeting space.

Turks and Caicos: Amanyara in Providenciales, the first Caribbean project from renowned Singapore–based Aman Resorts, opens March 1 with 40 villas; 40 more units will be added by December 2006. Fairmont Hotels & Resorts plans to open a 150-room resort and golf course in North Caicos in 2009.