Bill 33-0349  regarding the Tourism Revolving Enhancement Fund and potential passenger surcharges

Thursday July 23 O.Blake met with Senator Hodge to discuss his proposed bill of $2/person surcharge for USVI day-charters and $12/person foreign day-charter surcharge. Email sent requesting follow-up Aug 25th. No subsequent responses or replies to VIPCAs continued follow up.

October 5th Executive Director of VIPCA, O.Blake, Testified in Legislature against the Bill 33-0349  regarding the Tourism Revolving Enhancement Fund.

 

Thank you, members of this Committee, for providing the opportunity to speak. My name is Oriel Blake, and I am the Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Professional Charter Association, the non-profit supporting marine tourism businesses in the territory. VIPCA’s membership is 455 strong today comprising of 150 charter vessels, 185 yacht crew, and 120 marine vendor members all with their bases of operation in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In principle, VIPCA agrees with the end purpose of the Tourism Enhancement Revolving Fund being the support of sustainable tourism development. Allocating money to the restoration and improvement of touristic and historic sites, parks, marine parks, Government beaches and marine excursions is undeniably needed. However, as we are not experts in Government management for sustainable tourism development, we cannot comment as to whether the administration of the fund should be from within the Division of Sports Parks and Recreation or the Department of Tourism. What we do know is that in order to avoid a change in strategy and direction every time there is a new Commissioner or Director appointed, then the proposed administration of the Tourism Enhancement Revolving Fund through either Director or Commissioner is unsound. To maintain continuity in the long-term goals of sustainable tourism a development plan should be, if anything, administered by a committee with public and private participation in order to be fully transparent. Furthermore, VIPCA is concerned with the source of funding for either a Tourism Enhancement Revolving Fund or a Territorial Park Trust Fund, since a connection has been drawn between Bill 33-0349 to Bill 33-0365 which provides for the implementation of a passenger tour excursion surcharge on excursions and boat tours. Were marine passenger surcharges to be considered the source of funding for the Tourism Enhancement Revolving Fund or Territorial Park Trust Fund, then VIPCA would be strongly opposed to Bill- 0349, regardless of from which Department it is administered.

Further, we are concerned that if the restoration of historical sites are included under the same category as the improvement of parks, marine parks, beaches and marine excursions etc., then, since upward of $4 million would likely be needed for the restoration of Catherineberg Kings Quarter alone, the shorter- and medium-term tourism development funding objectives will never be reached. Instead an historical site grant should be independently sought with allocation from the General Fund, and not from a Tourism Enhancement Revolving Fund which we pre- empt shall seek taxes and surcharges as its fund source.

As for the funding of marine parks, Government beaches and marine excursions this needn’t be provided through a new funding source required for the new Territorial Park Trust Fund, but by levying current and existing taxes and fees by the all Government departments and these channelling into the Division of Sports, Parks and Recreation or Department of Tourism directly. Speaking for marine tourism, the annual direct economic contribution through fees collected by the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, Department of Licenses and Consumer Affairs, Port Authority, National Park, the USCG and IRB is $17,615 per vessel. For 150 week- term-charter yachts this equals $20 million and $15 million additionally by all day charter or excursion yachts. That is $35 million dollars direct economic contribution per year. Were each Government Department to tighten their administration of taxes and fees, they could avoid evasion, and their consistent fee application would increase Government revenue. Focus then could be put into working on what is required to increase the volume, the number of tours and the number of passengers. This is what will raise monies for the funding of marine parks, Government beaches and marine excursions, not by creating a new Fund.

Vote against Bill 33-0349 if you believe that, while recognising investment into sustainable tourism development is required, the Tourism Enhancement Revolving Fund with its proposed amendment of administration, is too broad, questionable for its transparency, and without tenable funding sources.