Beverly Nicholson-Doty, who has served as the U.S. Virgin Islands' commissioner of tourism for the past 12 years, resigned from that post on Dec. 27, following the election of a new government.
"It's been an honor to lead the tourism industry and the outstanding professionals who have contributed to the Department of Tourism," Nicholson-Doty said in an interview with me earlier this month. "It's been an exciting and rewarding experience, and I am so grateful to those who have mentored me over the years and to the people of the Virgin Islands for allowing me to serve the territory."
She led the Department of Tourism longer than any other commissioner before her and served under two governors, John de Jongh Jr. from 2007 to 2015 and Kenneth Mapp, who was defeated in November by Albert Bryan in a runoff election. Bryan will assume office later his month.
"The governor-elect did not ask for my resignation, but it is standard
procedure when a new administration comes in to turn in a resignation
letter," Nicholson-Doty said.
Her experience included steering the USVI tourism industry through some tumultuous times.
"Yes, there have been many challenges," she admitted. "I assumed office in 2007 and the recession hit in 2008 and hit us hard. Travel became a dispensable item for many travelers, and recovery was a long time coming."
The closure of the Hovensa oil refinery on St. Croix in 2012 put greater pressure on the tourism industry to make up the economic gap, but "these disruptions gave us reason to further improve our product, especially as competing destinations were enhancing their own offerings," she said.
But it was the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 that presented the biggest challenge to tourism during Nicholson-Doty's tenure. The storms decimated the territory's tourism product, leaving room inventory in shambles, visitor numbers off, cruise calls dropped and airlift severely cut.
"We lived through the absolute worst of two back-to-back Category 5 storms, and in the aftermath, we realized that this was an opportunity to upgrade our infrastructure," Nicholson-Doty said. "We have made great headway since then and come a long way."
Although the inventory of traditional accommodations is currently only half of what it was before the storms, in 2018 the territory saw growth in the villa market, home-sharing accommodations such as Airbnb and charter-yacht bookings. Visitor numbers and passenger spend also increased.
The robust 2018-2019 cruise season has 500-plus calls on its roster. St. Croix has recovered all of its pre-storm airlift, and St. Thomas stands at 80% of its pre-storm lift. Still to come are significant upgrades and rebuilds for major properties such as Frenchman's Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort, the Ritz-Carlton and Sugar Bay in St. Thomas, and Caneel Bay and the Westin in St. John.
Early in her 12-year tenure, in 2007, Nicholson-Doty visited New York to launch a marketing partnership between the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism and the New York Yankees. With Nicholson-Doty, from left: John deJongh, then the governor of the USVI; Horace Clarke, a former Yankee and native Virgin Islander; and relief pitcher Jose Veras.
"We are on the precipice of greatness," Nicholson-Doty said. "Our destination will be a new tourism product, but we will not see its full potential until 2020."
Nicholson-Doty and her team provided the new administration with a 100-page transition plan to help ensure the success of future tourism initiatives.
She is taking a well-deserved month or so off and plans to spend time with her new grandson. But although she's starting a new chapter in her life, she made clear that she "is not going anywhere."
"The Caribbean is my home, and I am not moving out of the region," she added. "I hope the new administration sees me as a resource. Travel and tourism are obviously near and dear to my heart, both in the U.S. Virgin Islands and the entire Caribbean region."
As she stepped down, her thank-yous extended to the "many travel agents who believed -- and continue to believe -- in the U.S. Virgin Islands through good times and bad. We will see many good times ahead."