US Virgin Islands Hotel & Tourism Association
Cruise Lines Applaud USVI Plans to Boost Industry
After the first meeting between the newly established Ports of the Virgin Islands – Charlotte Amalie Task Force and the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association in Miami this month, FCCA President Michele Paige applauded public-private cooperation in the U.S. Virgin Islands and welcomed the stakeholders’ resolve to build and improve the industry.
“After having lengthy discussions with the Governor (Kenneth Mapp) in March and sharing some of our concerns, (he) has gone back to the Virgin Islands and created a lot of enthusiasm (for) change … (and) things that are good for tourism,” said Paige at Norwegian Cruise Line’s offices after the meeting.
Members of the task force at the meeting included Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty; Public Works Commissioner Gustav James; the Commissioner Designee of Property and Procurement Lloyd Bough Jr.; the West Indian Company’s outgoing CEO Joseph Boschulte and incoming CEO Clifford Graham; Design Program Manager of the Department of Public Works Jomo McClean; and local businesspeople Richard Berry of West Indies Corporation and Vivek Daswani of Royal Caribbean, Duty-Free Shopping.
Cruise line executives from Carnival, Disney, Holland America Line, MSC Cruises, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean Cruises participated in the meeting.
Commissioner James, who presented plans for the debut of transportation in the Charlotte Amalie harbor, described the meeting as “very productive,” saying, “I was very pleased with the kind of feedback we got from the cruise lines and the other professionals that were in the room – it was a worthwhile trip and it will add to the quality of our RFP (Request for Proposal) and to the results that we will get.”
Local entrepreneur Daswani echoed his assessment and thought the cruise lines appreciated the USVI presentation. “They were happy to have us here and (we could) definitely see that there’s progress being made on all ends from the cruise line side, as well as our local side,” he said. “They seem very enthusiastic (and) very supportive of our initiative, and hopefully we will satisfy them and ourselves and our own community, and do what needs to be done.”
Commissioner Nicholson-Doty thanked the FCCA for its candor as the USVI recommits to regaining its status as the leading port in the Caribbean with a refreshed product and new experiences for cruise passengers.
Cruise line executives will meet with the Virgin Islands community in mid-July for a series of town hall meetings to discuss plans for revitalizing the product and opportunities to increase both cruise passenger and crew disbursements in the territory.
The next meeting of the Ports of the Virgin Islands – Charlotte Amalie Task Force will be held in June.
“We must address the concerns raised by our cruise partners,” said Commissioner Nicholson-Doty, who explained that it is a priority to improve infrastructure, implement harbor transportation and update product offerings, such as tours and shopping. “If we are not enhancing our product, we will continue to lose ground,” she explained, noting that declining cruise numbers are an indication of the territory’s missteps while other destinations have emerged in the region. “This is fixable, but it will take a concerted public and private sector commitment to change – thankfully, we are moving in the right direction.”
The United States Virgin Islands is now an approved destination to host National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I teams. Also, in addition to hosting basketball, volleyball and swimming events, the territory can facilitate the participation of soccer, lacrosse and other NCAA-sponsored sports during the summer months.
Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp said the new designation represented a huge boost for sports tourism opportunities in the territory.
He made the announcement May 26 at a news conference at Government House on St. Thomas, where he was accompanied by Commissioner of Tourism Beverly Nicholson-Doty; Commissioner of Sports, Parks and Recreation Pedro Cruz; Assistant Commissioner of Sports, Parks and Recreation Calvert White; and Nels J. Hawkinson, executive director of Basketball Travelers, Inc., which runs the USVI’s annual Paradise Jam basketball tournament in November.
“With all 24 NCAA Division I sports teams now able to travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands for summer tours, we look forward to being part of the growth of the Paradise Jam competitions and to the possibility of hosting other NCAA sporting events,” the governor said, recognizing the potential for a significant positive impact on the territory’s economy. “This is an amazing opportunity to expand our sports tourism portfolio and our facilities.”
The USVI and Basketball Travelers have partnered to bring five men’s college basketball teams to the territory as early as this August now that the USVI has been approved as an international or foreign tour destination for Division I colleges across the United States.
Hawkinson, who organizes both domestic and international basketball competitions for college and high school teams, said there are 340 Division I universities in the United States, each with approximately 25 sports with 50 potential teams (men and women combined) that can now visit the islands.
“We’re very excited to build on the success we’ve had for the last 18 years with Paradise Jam and to bring additional teams here. We’re looking forward to this new initiative and continuing our great partnership with the U.S. Virgin Islands and its people,” he said.
Three U.S. Division I schools, James Madison University, the University of Northern Colorado and Vanderbilt University, will visit the territory this August for the Paradise Jam Summer Tours, along with Canada’s Carleton University and Brock University.
“This partnership opens doors for new business in the summer and fall, with the potential to host more basketball teams and athletes in other areas,” Commissioner of Tourism Beverly Nicholson-Doty noted. She added the tourism department has been hard at work developing marketing strategies specifically for college and university audiences.
The commissioner said sports teams comprising 15 to 20 visitors are being encouraged, explaining that Paradise Jam, through its basketball competitions in the fall, currently produces $2.4 million in direct economic impact and more than $6 million in media exposure. “The event has a 22:1 return on investment for the U.S. Virgin Islands, so we are looking forward to this opportunity to have many more types of these sporting events as we build our sports tourism network.”