Caribbean islands slammed with double financial hit

Like the Bahamas, St. Lucia's bookings are also failing to match the dire forecasts predicted late last year, Andrew says. Through March, U.S. bookings are down 5% — vs. last year's 11% decline. Still, some of the trips could've been before the economy sank, he says: "Bookings after April don't look, so far, very encouraging."

One of the problems with forecasting 2009 business is that economic uncertainty is changing consumers' buying patterns. Yale says that some clients are calling for last-minute trips after hearing about discounts and cheaper airfares.

The growth of low-fare carrier JetBlue has helped. In December, JetBlue controlled 12% of the scheduled, non-stop seats from the Lower 48 to the Caribbean, vs. 8% a year earlier, which made it the second-biggest carrier in the region after American, which had 35%.

"When American made that decision (to cut service), it certainly influenced our choice to backfill," says Marty St. George, a JetBlue executive.

Some of the region's most exclusive hotels haven't lost their optimism. Garzaroli still expects to fill the Graycliff, which sells $4,000 glasses of cognac, with those least affected by the economic crisis: the super wealthy.

"There are plenty of wealthy people," he says. "Instead of eating caviar, they eat foie gras."

Barbara Hansen reported from McLean, Va.

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