USVI Needs to Find ‘Wow Factor’
By Aldeth Lewin
The Virgin Islands Daily News
ST THOMAS, USVI (MCT) — Cruise line executives met with top US Virgin Islands officials in Miami last week to discuss how the territory can improve as a destination and continue to draw passengers.
“There is no doubt that St Thomas continues to be a marquee destination,” USVI Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty said. “However, that said, I think that as a mature destination we have to be looking at what is the ‘wow factor,’ and St. Thomas is at that curve where it needs the ‘wow factor.’ ”
In a conference call on Thursday, Nicholson-Doty and Gov. John deJongh Jr. gave an overview of the meetings they attended in Florida.
The governor said he met with Carnival Corporation President and CEO Jerry Cahill and Royal Caribbean President Adam Goldstein. The governor also met with the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association’s operations committee, along with Nicholson-Doty, V.I. Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls and V.I. Police Commissioner Novelle Francis Jr.
The V.I. cabinet members were there to give association members updates on road work, infrastructure improvements, plans for developing the destination and the safety and security of visitors to the territory, deJongh said.
The meetings were good because the cruise executives told the V.I. officials not what they wanted to hear, but what they needed to hear, the governor said.
The territory needs to find ways to be more competitive and diversify the types of attractions, tours and shopping offered to visitors, according to deJongh and Nicholson-Doty.
“We have to be a lot more competitive and a lot more creative,” Nicholson-Doty said.
Many of the people coming into the territory on a cruise ship have been here before, so there must be a reason for them to get off the boat, and travel trends show that customers want highly interactive tours, with history and culture brought to life, the Tourism commissioner said.
“I think St. Thomas continues to rate strong, but we need to be ahead of the trend,” Nicholson-Doty said. “We need to be looking at five to 10 years from now.”
Now that Alaska, the Mediterranean and Asia are emerging as major cruise destinations, the focus should shift from competing against the other eastern Caribbean islands, she said.
“As a region, we have to raise the bar on the entire product,” Nicholson-Doty said. “Because we’re not competing so much against each other, we’re competing with the entire world.”
Discussing the inevitability of Cuba opening up, Nicholson-Doty said the island would fall into the western Caribbean itineraries and would not compete directly with the Virgin Islands for cruise passengers.
DeJongh said that when it comes to St. Croix as a cruise ship destination, the cruise executives said there are continued challenges, but they remain committed to working with the territory to improve and enhance the passenger experience.
Nicholson-Doty said the operations committee members at the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association meeting were very interested in the infrastructure of Charlotte Amalie and St. Croix.
“This was really important to the cruise lines,” she said.
Smalls detailed a number of projects, Nicholson-Doty said, that will begin in the area this year, including major improvements to the stretch of Kronprindsens Gade between Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral and Market Square. He also gave updates on the Long Bay Road Project, which, once finished, will allow smoother traffic flows between Havensight and Charlotte Amalie, resulting in a better experience for visitors, she said.
The V.I. delegation spent a lot of time discussing tours and attractions, the business community in the territory and ways the private and public sectors can improve the tourism product, Nicholson-Doty said.
The cruise lines have more than 50 percent of their customer surveys returned to them with feedback about their cruise experience, she said.
“That factors heavily into how they determine their itinerates in the future,” Nicholson-Doty said.
One of the high marks the territory got was the welcome passengers get when they leave the ship, especially the cultural entertainment and activities Tourism often brings to the territory’s ports, she said.
Because Nicholson-Doty and Francis had gone to Miami to meet with the operations committee in July after a shooting at Coki Point left a 14-year-old cruise passenger and a local man dead, it was important that they return to give an update on the situation, the Tourism commissioner said.
Francis detailed the Coki Point area improvements, including cleaning up junk and cutting bush, increasing police foot patrols and having officers on all-terrain vehicles, installing security cameras in the area, and rehabilitating the bath house and restroom facilities, Nicholson-Doty said.
DeJongh said the cruise lines also are concerned about fuel prices, and they indicated it is a factor in deciding which destinations to place on their itineraries.
“That’s where the ‘wow factor’ comes in,” he said, adding that if the destination is worth it, they will keep coming despite the cost to make the trip.
The cruise executives also talked about new regulations by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on emissions from the ships, deJongh said. The technology the cruise lines must invest in to comply with the new regulations will add to their operating costs, at least in the short term, but that the companies seem to understand the changes, deJongh said.
Copyright (c) 2011, The Virgin Islands Daily News, St. Thomas
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