Gay Nagle Myers
Gay Nagle Myers

InsightTo boost forward booking prospects for late winter and beyond, tourism officials in the U.S. Virgin Islands tweaked their game plan, created an Escape package offer with a $500 booking incentive and ramped up destination marketing exposure through Caribbean Tourism Organization chapter blitzes.

More than 200 Escape packages sold within hours of entering the marketplace.
The package can be booked through March for travel through May.

“We saw a turnaround in late winter, and the spring-early summer season is beginning to build, as well,” said Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty.
That summer business will be helped by American Airlines’ increase in service from Miami to the USVI, the commissioner said.

The carrier will up its flights to St. Croix to two daily nonstops and increase its St. Thomas service to three daily nonstops from Miami, up from two, effective June 10.

“That’s a move that our tour operators and agents understand because it speaks so well of the USVI as a destination,” Nicholson-Doty said. “As the region faces diminished service on American from San Juan, it is encouraging that the carrier is ensuring continued service from its Miami hub to the USVI.”

Final visitor figures for 2010 showed an overall annual growth of 3.8%, although numbers for winter 2010 jumped 11.5%, while the summer season was flat. “We did start to see some gains last year, but we’re not back to 2008 levels,” according to the commissioner.

The destination message to consumers remains consistent, she said. “No passport is required; we have great lift; our location makes it possible for quick getaways; and our food, sports and culinary special events reflect the interests of our niche markets.”

The recent territory-wide address by Gov. John deJongh warned of budget shortfalls and belt-tightening measures, which included an increase in the hotel occupancy tax from 8% to 10%.

“That still has to be passed by the Legislature, but we are aligned with the hotel sector on this issue,” Nicholson-Doty said. “The last increase took place in 1993. The revenue that will derive from the increase will go right into product development, hospitality training and destination marketing.”

The increase will be added on to hotel rates, “but it will not have a terrible impact on consumers,” she said.

It also will affect timeshare units when the units are used as hotel rooms.

In the cruise arena, tourism officials are pleased with results from the weekly calls by Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class ships.

“All our planning paid off,” Nicholson-Doty said. “For six months before the first call of the Oasis, we went through many exercises in traffic and passenger flow. On some days now there are more than 20,000 cruise passengers in port, but we expanded the hours of commerce, tweaked traffic patterns for land and cruise visitors, and it’s working well.”

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