U.S. visitors flocking to the U.S. Virgin Islands these days are getting more than just fun in the sun.
Many of them are also getting a shot in the arm.
Joseph Boschulte, commissioner of tourism, confirmed that "although we're not actively promoting or marketing vaccine tourism, nonresident vaccinations appear to be a benefit of the vacation experience for some of our visitors. We're not stopping them or preventing them from getting the vaccine."
All USVI residents 16 and over have been eligible for the jabs since March 1, and by the end of March the territory had administered more than 33,000 Covid-19 vaccines and 10,600 residents had received two shots, according to the New York Times.
"Information had circulated that visitors could get vaccinated here. Appointments are available at our two centers in St. Thomas or St. Croix through the Department of Health's website after a visitor arrives or online before travelers head south," Boschulte said.
"We have enough vaccine supply, and the rule is that you have to use up your allotment before you can be resupplied with more doses."
The USVI does not track the numbers of visitors inoculated but rather places the emphasis on the local government's self-imposed deadline of having 50% of the population of 106,000 residents vaccinated by July 1.
Depending upon which vaccine is administered, there's a wait time of three or four weeks between the first shot and the second.
Visitors who have received the first shot either return home to the U.S. mainland and then fly back for the second jab "or they stay here for three or four weeks," the commissioner said.
"This checks a lot of boxes for us. Our economy benefits from those who stay several weeks, eat in our restaurants, stay at hotels, charter boats for day trips and shop while waiting for the second shot," Boschulte said.
"The airlines get the passengers who return a second time, and our visitor numbers increase. Our airlift right now is ahead of both the prepandemic lift and the pre-2017 hurricane flight operations."
Boschulte attributed the current surge in visitors to the entry regulation that requires travelers to fill out the online Travel Portal to receive certification prior to travel. A negative Covid-19 test result taken within five days of travel also is required.
"Visitors are confident about our health and safety protocols. Right now we're averaging 3,000 arrivals a day into St. Thomas and 800 into St. Croix," he said.
Boschulte is "thankful and grateful" for the uptick in arrivals and feels that the numbers are sustainable.
He described the summer forecast as strong. "The expectation that all kids will be back in the classroom in the fall bodes well for family vacation travel this summer," he said.