CHARLOTTE AMALIE, St. Thomas -- Bolstered by a record $17 million
budgeted this year for promotion, Charles Turnbull, governor of the
U.S. Virgin Islands, predicted tour-ism numbers will continue to
rebound following Sept. 11.
Speaking at the ninth annual Virgin Islands Destination
Symposium, attended by key U.S.V.I. tourism partners, including 14
U.S. mainland-based wholesalers and airline representatives,
Turnbull cited ongoing tourism projects that include a $75 million
expansion at the Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas; an $80 million
investment to develop Carifest theme park near the cruise ship pier
on St. Thomas; and the construction of a megaresort with a casino
and 18-hole golf course on St. Croix.
Although the ill-timed announcement by Carnival Cruise Lines of
its immediate pullout from St. Croix dampened the tenor of
optimism, results for the winter season already show that the local
hotel industry was not hit as badly by fallout from the terrorist
attacks as first feared.
Compared with 2001, hotel occupancies for St. Thomas and St.
John were down only 4% from December through February as compared
with the same period a year ago.
March proved to be close to a bonanza for several hotels on St.
Rik Blyth, general manager of the 300-room Wyndham Sugar Bay
Beach Resort & Spa, said his property was "sold out" for most
of March and "did well" in April.
The 75-room Bolongo Bay Beach Resort, also on St. Thomas, had
"sellouts on many nights in March and April," according to Richard
Doumeng, general manager.
St. Croix was hit harder, suffering losses most months during
the winter season. Robert Siefert, general manager at the 126-room
Divi Carina Bay Resort & Casino on St. Croix, said April
figures "picked up in mid-month. With some aggressive promotion and
pricing, we feel the summer season may prove successful."
Siefert, who also is president of the St. Croix Hotel &
Tourism Association, described Carnival's pullout from St. Croix as
"an unfortunate loss for the destination. We cannot stand still,
and we must move forward with aggressive promotion and
The cruise line cited lack of demand for St. Croix as well as
scattered incidents of crime against its passengers and crews in
Last year, St. Croix hosted 200,000 cruise ship passengers,
compared with approximately 1.7 million who visited St. Thomas in
the same period.
The Virgin Islands Port Authority now has 66 ship calls
scheduled for Frederiksted, St. Croix, through June 2003, down from
what would have been 119.
Ships that will visit include Holland America's Zuiderdam, which
debuts in November; Celebrity Cruises' new Constellation; and
Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Sky.
However, operators that attended the symposium were optimistic
that travel incentives, marketing programs and the government's
commitment to tourism would bear fruit.
A new advertising campaign with the slogan "Three Islands.
Endless Possibilities" will launch this month and run through
Pamela Richards, commissioner of tourism, said, "The ads are
geared toward a patriotic theme and play up the islands' status as
a U.S. territory. The ads celebrate the diversity of the islands
and position the U.S. Virgin Islands as the complete vacation
St. Croix's focus is cultural heritage and underwater
experiences; St. John centers on ecotourism and natural beauty; and
St. Thomas is positioned as the gateway to the Caribbean in terms
of nightlife, dining and shopping.
August again has been designated as Travel Agent Month on St.
Thomas and St. John. Agents will receive three free nights at a
choice of 14 participating properties and discounts on attractions,
activities and air. An off-season consumer promotion includes $100
in shopping certificates and a free hotel night when three are
Greg Thorne, with New York-based Inter-Island Tours and a
wholesaler for the U.S.V.I., said he has increased his commitment
to the destination and now features programs at 21 properties.
His newest U.S.V.I. brochure will be distributed this month to
3,000 agencies. Inter-Island "is committed to retaining our 13%
commission on air and land packages," he added.
In Thorne's opinion, his top destinations in 2002 will be
"Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and the U.S. Virgin
Bob Lawrence, with Gogo Worldwide Vacations in Ramsey, N.J.,
said "the U.S. Virgin Islands is cohesive and is positioned well at
"The coming months present a good opportunity for picking up
business," he added, "and the U.S.V.I. has a good shot at capturing
For more information on the U.S. Virgin Islands, call (800)
372-USVI or visit www.usvitourism.vi.