The pandemic has had a devastating impact on the tourism industry in general and the cruise business in particular. As a region heavily dependent on the cruise industry, the Caribbean has taken an incredible economic hit.
The US Virgin Islands (USVI), one of the largest cruise destinations in the region, was also hit hard.
Cruises are a major segment of the Territory’s tourism sector, bringing an average of about $300 million into our economy every year before the pandemic. Now that the cruise industry is in recovery mode, we are taking active steps to rebuild our share of the business using a toolbox similar to the one we used to successfully attract new air travel to our two main islands, Santa Cruz and St. pandemic time.
While we are still recovering from two devastating Category 5 hurricanes in 2017, in 2020 we, like the rest of the world, have been hit by the public health crisis caused by COVID-19.
As Commissioner of Tourism, I am faced with the question of how our tourism product will survive and survive this unforeseen challenge.
After the cruise industry closed, our teams had to quickly move to a new strategy to exponentially increase air travel and overnight stays on all three of the Virgin Islands’ main islands of Santa Cruz, St. John and St. Thomas when we reopened.
We have changed our marketing strategy from cruises to overnight travelers. To attract them, we needed more air travel. So we took a very aggressive promotion strategy with the airlines.
We have met frequently with airline executives to brief them on the strength of our tourism infrastructure and our consistent COVID health and safety protocols that have enabled us to reopen in the summer of 2020. In addition, we ensured that their passengers would arrive to find a safe, comfortable and welcoming place to stay. Using this multifaceted approach, we were able to convince airline executives that USVI would be a reasonable and profitable bet during the pandemic.
Our strategy proved to be effective.
U.S. Virgin Islands airports in St. Croix and St. Thomas saw 14% more passengers in February 2022 than in February 2019, according to the Transportation Security Administration. 2019 and 2021, increasing the total number of relegated seats by 35.8%.
Through air transport, we have focused on the cruise industry. The outlook for cruises is positive as the industry gains momentum.
According to the International Cruise Lines Association’s 2022 Cruise Industry Outlook Report, 2022 is a key year of transition, with a full recovery expected by 2023 as passenger traffic is expected to return to 2019 levels. In order to get our share of returning orders, we are developing strategies to dramatically increase the number of port calls by…