CHARLOTTE AMALIE, St. Thomas -- Small hotels in the U.S. Virgin Islands will get a boost next month with the launch of USVirgInns, a branding program dedicated to marketing, promoting and selling properties of 50 rooms or fewer on St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas.

The commissionable program is administered by New York-based tour operator Island Resort Tours and is a joint effort of the hotel associations and the U.S.V.I. Department of Tourism.

USVirgInns is a new program in the U.S. Virgin Islands to market and promote properties of 50 rooms or fewer, such as the Hotel 1829, shown above, a 14-room, Spanish-style inn overlooking the Charlotte Amalie waterfront in St. Thomas. Beverly Nicholson, executive director of the St. Thomas-St. John Hotel & Tourism Association, said that an agent-friendly Web site at www.usvirginns.com will direct consumers to book through agents.

The site is expected to be operational by May 15 as is the toll-free number at (888) US VIRGINS. In addition, the destination's Web site at www.usvitourism.vi will link to the small hotels program.

"There are 17 properties that already have applied for the program, and we expect to meet our initial target of 20 for the first phase," Nicholson said. "In the long term, we are hopeful that all of our small properties will participate because they make up the bulk of our accommodations in the territory."

For example, of the 63 resorts, hotels and inns on St. John and St. Thomas, 51 have fewer than 50 rooms each.

Nicholson said that participating properties must meet a set of criteria that includes quality-assurance ratings similar to those in place at the National Associations of Bed and Breakfasts and Small Inns.

The Caribbean Hotel Association is expected to help with certification criteria as well.

"The criteria form a common denominator by which each property will be rated," she said. "Getting the hotels certified is important because it is a creditable means of assuring guests of a level of service."

Funding for the program will come from the hotels themselves, the hotel associations and the Department of Tourism.

After a property qualifies by meeting the ratings and standards set for participants, each hotel will pay a one-time fee of $1,000. On June 1, the hotel associations will implement a $1 per room, per night charge to fund ongoing marketing and promotional costs.

"This is the first time the territory has had a program specifically targeted at our smaller properties," Nicholson said. "These represent an important market that, until now, has not had the resources to take advantage of a tour operator's packages and reservations capabilities."

The ability to pool resources "will open up a lot more opportunities for these small properties," according to Nicholson.

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