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TORONTO — The U.S. Virgin Islands had a brief run-in with Hurricane Dorian a few days ago but it was nothing like the visit from Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.
Thankfully Dorian was just a blip for the USVI, and the islands have just about fully recovered from Irma and Maria two years ago. Dorian brought just winds and rain and the islands were giving the all-clear soon after the hurricane passed through.
“In 2017 we were hit by two Category 5 hurricanes, Irma and Maria, within the space of 10 days. It was a devastating time,” said Bevan Springer, Marketplace Excellence, addressing the audience at yesterday’s USVI media luncheon. “But thanks to our industry partners and friends, we’ve recovered well.”
Canada is an important market for the USVI and tourism officials said they’re working on developing nonstop service to the islands from Canada. “Air Canada had nonstop flights to the USVI a while ago,” said U.S. Virgin Islands Commissioner of Tourism, Joe Boschulte. “One of the things that’s high on our priority list is to talk to Air Canada to bring that service back. We have a marketing budget. We can support it.”
As any destination knows, balancing airlift and hotel development can be a tricky business. Especially when the destination is only recently recovered from hurricane damage. “The relationship between airlift and hotel is symbiotic,” said Boschulte. “The airlines ask, are the hotels reopened yet? And the hoteliers ask, when are we going to get our airlift?”
The islands are back in shape but many of the biggest hotels are taking their time to get their properties in tiptop condition. “Most of our biggest hotels are still down,” said Boschulte. “But I’m happy to say that The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas is back with lots of bookings.”
He said he expects Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort to reopen in 2020. Meanwhile a completely renovated Divi Carina Bay All-Inclusive Beach Resort & Casino is expected to re-open in 2020 as well.
Boutique-style properties are up and running on the islands. Boschulte said USVI is looking to promote St. Croix especially “as our gem that needs to be shown to the world.”
USVI is a big cruise destination, with St. Thomas an especially popular port of call, particularly for shoppers. The cruise ships came back to St. Thomas fairly quickly after Irma and Maria and that helped with the destination’s recovery. “The cruise ships were back in St. Thomas two to five months after the storms,” said Boschulte. St. Thomas can accommodate five ships at a time, and St. John can take two. This year St. Thomas will have 1.4 million cruise passenger arrivals, down by about 20%.
New resort announcements for the USVI are almost a certainty, as the government is actively encouraging and promoting development opportunities for hoteliers. Officials say several big-name hotel companies are currently in talks to develop new resorts in USVI. “For the longest time there were quite a few destinations in the Caribbean that weren’t interested in tourism,” said Boschulte. “Now everybody wants in.”