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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
To see more of The Virgin Islands Daily News, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

World’s Largest Cruise Ship Makes Inaugural Call on USVI

Allure of the Seas

By Aldeth Lewin
The Virgin Islands Daily News

Published December 18th, 2010-ST THOMAS, USVI (MCT) — Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas made its inaugural call on St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands on Wednesday, and the territory welcomed the largest cruise ship on the ocean with open arms.

The ship is almost identical to its sister ship, Oasis of the Seas, and will berth at Crown Bay every other week, alternating with the Oasis.

At a plaque ceremony on board the ship on Wednesday, Captain Hernan Zini told the dignitaries, “Thank you once again for the continuous focus you have on making the destination better and better.”

Michael Ronan, vice president of government relations for Royal Caribbean, said he was excited to once again be on hand to welcome a brand new ship to the Virgin Islands.

“The passengers want to take the greatest ship in the world to the greatest destination in the world,” Ronan said.

The Allure and the Oasis are expected to bring $1.5 million in revenues to the territory during each port call — $78 million a year — Ronan said. According to a Florida Caribbean Cruise Association report, the average cruise passenger spends $193 while in the US Virgin Islands and crew members spend about $150. The ship also brings revenues to the territory through the taxes and fees Royal Caribbean pays to dock and berth the ship.

With the Allure calling regularly on St Thomas, Royal Caribbean will bring an additional 100,000 passengers to the island in the coming year, and about 80,000 more the following season, Ronan said.

He said that by 2012, Royal Caribbean should be bringing about 875,000 passengers to the territory on an annual basis.

Port Authority Harbor Pilot John Amaro brought the mammoth boat into the Monsanto Marine Terminal at Crown Bay on Wednesday morning.

“It’s as thrilling as it ever is,” he said.

Because the boat is nearly identical to the Oasis of the Seas, and the harbor pilots have had a year of experience guiding that ship into port, it was a smooth operation, said Amaro.

Fortunately, the ship was docked just ahead of a squall that kicked up winds and dumped rain in the area, he said.

The interiors are almost the same, but Allure has the first “Starbucks at Sea” coffee bar and a Mexican restaurant replaces the seafood eatery in the Boardwalk area. Instead of the Broadway musical Hairspray as a running show, the Allure has Chicago: The Musical.

Allure also has the first 3-D movie theater, which soon will be adopted on other Royal Caribbean ships.

Just like the Oasis, Allure’s “neighborhoods,” or sections of the ship, are divided into seven themed areas: Central Park, Boardwalk, the Royal Promenade, the Pool and Sports Zone, Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center, Entertainment Place and Youth Zone.

The ship has 16 decks, encompasses 225,282 gross registered tons, carries 5,400 guests at double occupancy, and features 2,700 staterooms.

The ship alternates between western Caribbean and eastern Caribbean seven-night itineraries, starting from its home port in Florida. Its three Eastern Caribbean ports of call are St Thomas; Nassau, Bahamas; and St Martin.

Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty said the arrival of the ship for the coming season will boost revenues for the territory, both immediately and in the future.

About 20 percent of the overnight guests who come to the Virgin Islands first came here on a cruise ship, she said.

“So this is our opportunity to show off the Virgin Islands,” Nicholson-Doty said.

In addition to volunteers with big “Ask Me” buttons pinned to their shirts and women in traditional dress handing out Cruzan Rum samples, Tourism had set up live entertainment at the Crown Bay dock, Market Square, Emancipation Garden and Havensight. Mocko jumbies, steel pan and various musical acts brought a little V.I. culture to the crew and passengers of all seven ships that visited St Thomas on Wednesday.

When the Oasis of the Seas first called on St Thomas a year ago, the territory’s Tourism, Police, Port Authority and Public Works officials were concerned about controlling traffic flow through the area and ensuring that cruise passengers were efficiently taken from the dock to their tours and excursions, that all passengers were safe and that the boat could physically dock at the port. After a year of working out kinks, the Allure’s arrival Wednesday was a piece of cake.

“We already had the experience and the systems were in place,” Nicholson-Doty said. “I didn’t lose as much sleep with this one.”

Jeremy Pickford, manager of the Crown Bay Diamonds International store, said the day was steady and typical of a day when the Oasis is in port. With one of the huge ships calling at Crown Bay each week instead of every other week, sales are bound to improve, he said.

“That makes this year better, no matter what,” Pickford said.

Copyright (c) 2010, The Virgin Islands Daily News, St. Thomas
To see more of The Virgin Islands Daily News, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.