The U.S. Virgin Islands is determined to position itself as the top tourism destination in the Caribbean in terms of visitor arrivals, according to Gov. Albert Bryan Jr.
During a recent address to cruise industry leaders at a Miami conference, Bryan said that positioning the USVI as the biggest Caribbean destination requires continued investment in its infrastructure and its people as well as the support of all tourism partners, "whether they're in the aviation or the cruise sector."
So just how is the USVI doing, as the destination moves toward full recovery a year and a half after the 2017 hurricanes?
Tourism commissioner designee Joseph Boschulte (his confirmation, approved by the full Virgin Islands Senate, now awaits his swearing in as commissioner of tourism by the governor) is very upbeat, citing positive developments taking place across the sector, including airlift, accommodations and arrivals.
"The demand for our destination is strong, and we are delighted with the confidence our airline partners have expressed in the U.S. Virgin Islands," Boschulte said.
"We've had some very important discussions about the future of airlift to the territory, especially as more accommodations reopen in the months ahead," he said. "We are exploring every avenue to boost relations with airline partners."
For St. Thomas, United added daily nonstops from Houston through Aug. 19. Starting this winter there will be seasonal weekly nonstops from Chicago on both United and American as well as year-round Saturday nonstops from Dallas/Fort Worth on American, beginning Dec. 21.
In addition, American is considering adding a third daily Miami flight this winter, according to Boschulte.
For St. Croix, Spirit added a fourth weekly flight this summer and fall from Fort Lauderdale, a move that officials hope will help boost air arrivals into the island.
At a recent meeting in Atlanta that the governor and Boschulte held with members of Delta's team, Bryan said that the Henry Rohlsen airport in St. Croix "has been underutilized for years."
"With Divi Carina Bay Resort & Casino expected to come back online in December, and with the expansion in sharing accommodations and robust business travel demand returning with the resumption of activity at the Hovensa oil refinery, the conditions look favorable for increasing flights to St. Croix."
Bryan said that "the increase in air capacity on St. Thomas and St. Croix dovetails seamlessly with the re-openings of traditional accommodations over the next several months."
The return of hotels and resorts to the accommodations landscape will include the Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas, which will return for the winter season; the Renaissance St. Croix Carambola Beach Resort & Spa, slated to reopen in Q4 or early 2020; and Frenchman's Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort, expected to reopen during Q1 2020.
Visitor numbers for the destination as a whole reflect increases, although full Q1 data is not yet available for air arrivals. January's total stayover numbers of 45,853 represented an increase of 173% over the same month in 2018, but it's not a fair comparison since the territory at that point was in the midst of assessing hurricane damage and destruction.
Cruise arrivals, however, for Q1 2019 topped 484,276, up 17.3% over the 412,946 arrivals in the same period in 2017.
In 2018 overall, the USVI welcomed nearly half a million air arrivals and more than 1.4 million cruise passengers.
Boschulte anticipates a busy summer season as the territory hosts hallmark events, such as the 65th monthlong St. John Festival that culminates on July 4, the 23rd Annual Mango Melee on St. Croix on July 12 and the 31st Bastille Kingfish Tournament on St. Thomas on July 14.