Thursday 14 June, 2018
Presentation given by Executive Director, Oriel Blake
Virgin Islands Professional Charter Association (VIPCA)
The Marine Charter Industry: It’s Resiliency after a Natural Disaster.
A Few Facts:
- The U.S. Virgin Islands is a territory of islands with a large marine environment
- We are dependent on tourism for economic stability and strength
- Tourists visit the USVI because of our waters and all the activities and opportunities to explore and enjoy the warm water of our beaches and reefs, snorkelling, diving, boating, fishing, etc. Tourists also use ferries and water taxis to transit to neighbouring islands.
- The marine charter industry was quickest to recover after the 2017 hurricanes. It maintained employment of nearly all of its captains, crew, marina staff, marine maintenance and marine services staff and kept driving business through the airport, taxis, restaurants, and supermarkets and beverage distributers.
Let me ask you a question:
Does the USVI want diversified interesting attractions for its visitors?
- To keep interest in the USVI while the other facets of tourism recover, we need to focus on strengthening the marine industry that is already up and running.
So many are not aware of the affordability of an all-inclusive week charter and the appeal of the cruising grounds right here in the USVI as an alternative to a hotel, villa or resort vacation. The Department of Tourism should be spending money normally used to promote hotels instead promoting the marine industry which is already up and running with 145 day charter vessels and 129 week charter vessels.
- Marine tourism industries offer the most immediate expansion possibilities — and it is quickly expandable. 2017-18 Season’s annual revenue made by day and week charter boats alone (uninspected vessels only and not including the x20 inspected day charter boats which run cruise ship excursions) is over $50 million dollars. This could easily be doubled had we not had the losses of charters as a cause of the 2017 hurricanes.
- We need to draw more boats to the area and can facilitate that by:
- Convenient air travel for charter guests (Make it easy to get here!)
- Streamlining the movements into and out of the Territory by improving Customs facilities on both the East and West ends of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix and improve visa allowances for visiting yacht crew to permit them to work during their foreign vessel’s visit to the USVI.
- Promote the charter industry and other marine tourism through advertising and targeted marketing initiatives selling the USVI as a base of its own as opposed to as a gateway to the BVIs. Inform international press and travel agencies that the USVI has recovered its former natural beauty since the 2017 hurricanes.
- Promote alternatives to cruise ships and hotels!
- While cruise ships are important to the islands, many people want a more “upscale” alternative to cruise ships. The glamour and prestige of cruise ship travel has diminished and cruise ship passengers spend increasingly less ashore.
- While hotels are important to the islands, they are suffering a long recovery phase while the marine industry thrives with their self-sufficient ability to generate their own power and water and ability to accommodate tourists onboard for the duration of their vacation (no dependency on hotels).
Expenditure suggestions for the Hurricane Task Force:
- Promoting charter trips exclusively in the USVIadvertising through DOT.
- Greater focus and SEO in social media and press releasesfor the day and week charter, fishing and dive charter boats in the USVI through Dept of Tourisms. Focus on the charter possibilities present around our own anchorages:
- John, Buck Island, Water Island, Hassel Island, Magen’s Bay, Hull Bay, Great St. James and all STJ National Park Bays, Leymeshur and Coral Bay
- Publish VI Still Nice Yachting video created by VIPCA
- Promote the US NationalPark presence in the USVI and all of our US National Park anchorages. Advertise in forums that focus on travel to US National Parks.
- Install transient mooringsin anchorages for visiting and resident yachts with the insistence that all moorings are vacated during hurricanes into a hurricane resilient facility such as a boat yard or in a secure tie-up in the mangroves.
- Develop a state of the art marine haul out facilityand service boat yard to cater to charter vessels in low season and for hurricane tie-down protection. This would also facilitate prolonging the charter season since vessels would not be required to leave the hurricane belt for haul out during July-November.
- Support DPNR Enforcementwith greater budget and staffing to police moorings to determine that all are permitted, paid for and maintained.
- Enforce a hurricane plan to be utilised by all vesselsin the USVI, fineable if not complied with, preventing any vessel from breaking adrift from the mooring.
- Enforce a rule insisting thatall vessels left in the water during hurricane season must carry yacht insurance. It should not be government money paying for vessel salvage and damage caused by private vessels grounding.
- Improve Customs facilities in the USVIto welcome more visiting yachts and to handle theexisting traffic of both charter vessels and ferries. There should be facilities in the East and West of STT, STJ and STX capable of handling both ferries and charter vessels.
Longer Term Goals:
Create better marine accessible venues that will attract tourists
- WATERFRONT BARS WITH BEACHES. The Govt should do whatever it can to help promote the growth of those businesses and to support accessibility of beach bars to charter vessels and their dinghies.
- Develop Coral Bayto promote marine tourism with beach bars, customs
- Rejuvenate Red Hook
- Rejuvenate Benner Bay
- Rejuvenate Charlotte Amalie Waterfront opening a town quay access to vessels