Photos: Caribbean way of life

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  1. Barbados

    This undated photo courtesy of the Barbados Tourism Authority shows Harrismith Beach, Barbados. Sun, surf and sand are the main draws on this tropical Caribbean island. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Barbados

    This undated photo courtesy of Barbados Tourism Authority shows The Watering Hole rum shop in Barbados. The rum shops on the island are good places to sample local food and drink, watch a game of dominos, or just get to know the friendly and hospitable Bajans. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. St. Lucia

    Developed, beautiful and situated in the Eastern Caribbean, St. Lucia is accessible from Europe and Canada, and reachable -- albeit not as easily -- from the United States. St. Lucia is known as a romantic destination. The island gets plenty of visitors, including wedding parties. (Holger Leue  / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. St. Lucia

    Cocoa pods lie on the ground ready to be processed at Fondoux Plantation in Soufriere, St. Lucia. Cocoa is one St. Lucia's main produce alongside the more obvious banana crop. (Chris Jackson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. St. George's

    The capital of Grenada, St. George's is considered one of the prettiest harbor towns in the Caribbean. Grenada's unique layout includes many finger-like coves, making the island a popular sailing destination. (Richard Cummins  / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. The Cayman Islands

    The Cayman Islands very popular attractions, Stingray City and the nearby shallows known as the Sandbar, provide the only natural oportunity to swim with Atlantic Southern Stingrays. (David Rogers / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Stingray City

    The Cayman Islands very popular attractions, Stingray City and the nearby shallows known as the Sandbar, provide the only natural oportunity to swim with Atlantic Southern Stingrays. (David Rogers / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. St John's

    In high season, up to five cruise ships visit St John's, Antigua, each day. The boats unload mostly American and European passengers who fan out across the island visiting the casinos and beaches. Antigua is easily accessible, and can offer good values for tourists. (Chris Jackson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Antigua

    Antigua, located in the Northeastern Caribbean, is a popular tourist spot. While there are high-end, stylish hotels, the island also features a large number of mid-priced options. Visitors will find beach bars, restaurants, casinos and shopping. (Richard I'Anson  / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Antigua

    People walk along an area known as Devils Bridge in Indian Town Point, Antigua. Antigua is a wintertime destination for many visitors from the north. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Dominica

    Not as well known as other Caribbean islands, Dominica is green, fertile and mountainous. Visitors will find some opportunites to scuba dive, but watersports are not its main draw. The island does, however, offer a slew of rainforest trails -- great for hiking and sightseeing. (Greg Johnston  / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Dominican Republic

    An old church building is seen in La Romana, the third-largest city in the Dominican Republic. (Wayne Walton / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Belize

    Belize gets more than 850,000 visitors each year. The hot spot allows watersports such as kayaking and snorkeling, as well as inland activities like hiking and birding. The Mayan ruins of Altan Ha, pictured, are easily accessible from Caye Caulker. (Andrew Marshall / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. La Tortuga

    A fisherman repairs his nets on Cayo Herradura, off the island of La Tortuga in Venezuela. The country offers visitors a variety of activities to choose from, but remains undervisited -- especially compared to its South American neighbors. (Lynne Sladky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Cuba

    Cuba blends the fantastic attractions associated with other Caribbean destinations with an amazing history. Tourists can stroll white sand beaches, take in the incredible architecture and party into the early-morning hours. (Javier Galeano / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. St. Barthelemy

    St. Barthelemy is a vacation spot of stars and millionaires. Trendy, chic and sexy, St. Baarths is safe for tourists, but expensive to visit. About 8,700 people reside on the island. (Mark Mainz / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Puerto Rico

    A man climbs to a 40-foot waterfall at the south side of the Caribbean National Rain Forest, commonly called El Yunque, near Naguabo, Puerto Rico. Most visitors hike the well-marked paths in the northern half of the park's rain forest but the trails in the south allow hikers and nature lovers to explore the only tropical forest in the U.S. national forest system. (Herminio Rodriguez / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Puerto Rico

    The cupola of San Juan Cemetary as well as colorful homes sit next to the ocean in Old San Juan, the original capital city of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The old city is a historic district of seven square blocks made up of ancient buildings and colonial homes, massive stone walls and vast fortifications, sunny parks and cobblestoned streets. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Puerto Rico

    Men play dominos in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Old San Juan is a well-preserved colonial city that allows tourists a peek into the past. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Guadeloupe

    Guadeloupe isn't as developed as some other Caribbean islands, but it offers a variety of beaches -- some active with watersports, some secluded. The island also offers beach bars, restaurants, mid-range hotels and other tourist amenities. (Marcel Mochet / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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updated 6/19/2008 11:35:42 AM ET 2008-06-19T15:35:42

Expensive jet fuel and a soft American economy are threatening to sink Caribbean tourism as airline ticket prices soar and flights are sharply reduced, choking the flow of the vacationers that many tiny islands depend upon.

Tourism is the economic cornerstone of the Caribbean, which drew more than 15 million visitors last year to colonial cities and carefree beaches.

"Billions of dollars of investment are being exposed and thousands of jobs are being exposed," said Allen Chastanet, chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

Airlines are cutting back across the world as passengers balk at paying fares that have risen along with fuel costs. The Caribbean is particularly vulnerable because one foundering airline, American, controls much of the market — carrying more than 60 percent of passengers traveling through Puerto Rico last year.

American now expects to cut daily flights out of Puerto Rico's capital from 93 to 51 in September. Gone will be flights to Santo Domingo, Antigua, St. Maarten, Aruba and Samana in the Dominican Republic, spokeswoman Minnette Velez said.

Fewer flights to Puerto Rico also could also jeopardize the island's cruise ship industry, since it would be harder for passengers to reach the island to board. Ten cruise ships used Puerto Rico as their home port last year.

Rather than raise ticket prices so high that they're beyond the reach of most customers, American has decided to cut flights and reduce capacity, Velez said. "Traveling would be completely inaccessible if we increase fares as oil prices rise," she said.

Other carriers are making similar moves. Spirit Airlines recently said it would close its San Juan hub, and Continental Airlines expects to soon announce destination and flight cuts.

The Caribbean is still affordable for wealthy travelers, but resorts "that appeal particularly to price-sensitive families are in a world of trouble," said Christopher Hart, a professor at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration.

The flight cuts are coming despite increases in tourism this year to most of the islands, including double-digit growth in U.S. visitors to Antigua, St. Lucia and Jamaica, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization. The Dominican Republic reported 407,000 U.S. tourists from January to April, a 6 percent increase from last year, and Puerto Rico reported increased airline passenger traffic as well.

Now many fear even more cuts, meaning the islands won't even have a chance to lure more tourists.

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"This is just the beginning," said Peter Muller, a German native who owns the Hotel Coyamar in Samana, the Dominican Republic.

"We're going to reach a point where it's no longer worth keeping the airport open."

In Antigua, where tourism officials tried to lure visitors over the weekend of June 14-15 with a music festival featuring Lionel Richie and Kenny Rogers, most of the tickets sold were to locals, festival chairman Alvin Edwards said.

Antigua's tourism board announced in early June that Delta Airlines would soon launch a direct flight from New York to Antigua. The airline formally announced the flight on June 12.

The U.S. Caribbean territory of Puerto Rico, the region's main tourism gateway, has offered to reduce low-season airport fees by as much as 45 percent to persuade airlines to reconsider.

Flying against the trend is JetBlue Airways Corp., which plans to add daily flights to Puerto Rico from New York, Orlando and Boston starting this fall, and Virgin Atlantic, whose president Richard Branson told The Associated Press that he also might add extra flights from the U.S. to the Caribbean.

"Where things are seriously going wrong is in America," Branson said. "Virgin America is a great airline, it's doing very well. We have young planes which are more fuel-efficient than the ones American Airlines has."

Smaller islands are asking regional carriers such as LIAT and Air Jamaica to increase flights and coordinate schedules to fill gaps left by American, said Chastanet, who is also St. Lucia's tourism minister.

Some islands also are turning to Europe, where the euro has risen against the dollar, making Caribbean vacations more attractive.

"There's an opportunity given the strength of the euro," said Allegra Kean-Moorehead, spokeswoman for the U.S. Virgin Islands tourism department. "It's a market that has a huge amount of potential."

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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