U.S. Virgin Islands predicts better times ahead for tourism

Panoramic view of Charlotte Amalie harbor, St. Thomas. (Larry Luxner)

Editor’s Note: This is part of  a series of stories on Caribbean tourism. Read the previous stories here.

Last year was a gloomy one for the U.S. Virgin Islands, an American territory in the Caribbean that’s home to just under 110,000 people. Fewer cruise ships called on St. Thomas and St. Croix, and a major oil refinery closed on St. Croix, leaving 2,000 people jobless. Yet 2013 is looking very good so far — particularly when it comes to air arrivals, which are at their highest levels since the mid-1990s.

Overall air traffic during fiscal 2012, which ended on Sep. 30, 2012, was up by 9.9 percnet compared to fiscal 2011. At Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas, passenger traffic was the highest since 1994, with 700,550, while the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix handled 224,672 passengers; it hadn’t seen such large numbers since 2001.

“On a nationwide basis, the U.S. economy remains relatively stagnant as recovery has not fully occurred from the recent recession,” said a report prepared by Texas-based consultants Reynolds Smith & Hills at the behest of V.I. officials. “Unemployment is at higher than normal levels. The poor economy and higher jet fuel prices have caused national air passenger traffic to decline or be flat. This makes the strong increase in 2012 Virgin Islands Port Authority aviation traffic even more remarkable.”

Projections for fiscal 2013 show a 1.4% increase in total weekly seats to St. Thomas from 17,989 to 18,246, while St. Croix’s weekly air capacity is forecast at 5,219, a 10% decline over the previous year. That’s a consequence of the recent closure of the sprawling Hovensa oil refinery — which put 1,000 direct employees and another 1,200 indirect employees out of work — and the resulting cancellation of Delta’s weekly flight from Atlanta to St. Croix.

Celebration cruise ship docks at Havensight Mall, St. Thomas. (Larry Luxner)

Jospeh Boschulte, president and CEO of West Indian Co., said cruise ship schedules look very good for 2013 and 2014 — especially in the summer. He told the Virgin Islands Daily News that cruise lines go where the revenue is, and that Carnival in particular is looking to reposition ships it had in the European market back to the Caribbean for the next two summers.

V.I. Tourism Department spokeswoman Allegra Kean-Moorehead said that even though St. Thomas — famous for its duty free shopping — has long been the territory’s main attraction for cruise ships, the fact that cruise lines are adding St. Croix to their regular itineraries is very promising.

This season, 55 cruise ships will visit that island, nine of them for the first time. While the number of calls is two fewer than the previous year, the ships coming this year are larger and accommodate more passengers and crew.

Flags of the United States and the U.S. Virgin Islands. (Larry Luxner)

These include Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas, Brilliance of the Seas, Vision of the Seas and Enchantment of the Seas as well as Celebrity Cruise Line’s Eclipse. In fact, Jewel of the Seas is scheduled to call on St. Croix seven times this summer, bringing up to 17,500 passengers and 6,000 crew to the island during a traditionally slow period.

In June, the U.S. territory will be the focus of a Washington event at the Navy Yard Conference Center.

The USVI 2013 Economic Development Summit, presented by the USVI Alliance with support from the 340 Group, will feature speeches by V.I. Gov. John P. de Jongh; Donna M. Christensen, the USVI’s non-voting delegate in Congress; Charmaine L. Slack, a partner at Jones Day; Adrianne Todman, executive director of the District of Columbia Housing Authority, and Mark Oliver, senior partnerships advisor at the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Agenda promoters say the Virgin Islands “offers the unique blend of Caribbean lifestyle with the economic and financial security of doing business under the U.S. flag.” In addition, investing in the territory is “extremely lucrative” thanks to tax and other incentives, according to the nonprofit USVI Alliance.

“Led by Virgin Islands government leaders and industry experts in energy, technology, affordable housing and healthcare reform, this conference will convene some of the territory’s most experienced policymakers and advocates spearheading economic recovery and development in the USVI,” the alliance said in a press release.



3 thoughts on “U.S. Virgin Islands predicts better times ahead for tourism

  • August 10, 2013 at 4:06 PM

    The exact problem with tourism in the US Virgin islands ARE the cruise ships and the Tourism Department’s over-reliance on them. have you ever experienced a day when there are 6 cruise ships in and they dump over 10,000 people ar once?

    The issue here in the islands is SUSTAINABLE tourism and the “right kind” of cultural tourism, not the 5 tee shirts for $10 crowd. Over emphasis on cheap Chinese mass produced trinkets, not local arts and crafts and indigineous culture…

    Also—the significant over-development of natural resources by greedy developers, particularly on island neighbor St. John, and now some on St. Croix has degraded the pristine nature of te islands as well.

    Incidentally as well—the worlds 3rd largest oil refinery called HOVENSA has crippled the tax base by closing down. ( provided our 6th fleet with fuel) There was an artificially high reliance on those tax dollars. The plant also caused major health and environmental concerns along with cfeating a visual blight along the coast of St. Croix…

    The article’s author is born and raised in Miami and based in Maryland NOT HERE day to day….spending a few days or a week AS A GUEST OF the Toursim Department does not constitute any real knowledge of the stressors facing the tourism brand in The US Virgin islands.

    Better times ahead? don’t bet on it….

    Dan Bostdorf
    St. John and Boston Mass

    • Larry Luxner
      August 10, 2013 at 6:07 PM

      Hello Dan. Thanks for your thoughtful letter, in which you raise many valid concerns about the tourism industry and its effect — both positive and negative — and the people of the USVI. Unfortunately, you ended your letter with some assumptions that have no basis in fact. While it’s true that I’m from Miami and am now based in Maryland, how does that make me any less knowledgeable about the Caribbean? I spent nine years in Puerto Rico writing for Caribbean Business, the San Juan Star, the Miami Herald and more than a dozen other publications — and have reported from every country in this hemisphere except St. Lucia and St. Vincent (the Guianas included). Furthermore, not once was I ever a guest of the USVI Department of Tourism. My reporting trips to St. Thomas and St. Croix over the years were paid for by the newspapers for which I was on assignment, not by any government tourism agency. I don’t know why you would assume otherwise.

      • August 10, 2013 at 11:27 PM

        Appreciate your civil response, but II remain very skepticle of any reporter who has not lived and worked i the US Virgin Islands who writes a piece that clearly favors the “tourism departments” point of view without balancing the reality of the situation being experienced in the islands.

        My “negative” comments are essentially what most “born here” natives feel since I came to the VI in 1998 and published a magazine both print and online that celebrates the real lifestyle, culture and commerce of the USVI, not the tourism departments point of view. We then expanded in 2011 to 35 CTO member island nations coverage using ONLY local reporters and photographers from the individual islands who live and work on that particular island….not journlist or travel writers who live elsewhere…

        Our print version was printed in San Juan PR, and we maintain a condo there for 10 years even after switching to an online publication only.

        I sincerely apologize for being skepticle of your credentials.

        Your tag line with the additional credentials you have relayed in your response needs to be expanded and should clearly indicate these facts.

        It should also state that you were NOT a reporter or travel writer with and all expenses paid trip to the islands, as is the case with most “journalists” who go on the dole of the tourism department and don’t disclose that fact.

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