A Commitment to Growth: One on One With Beverly Nicholson-Doty
Photo by Brian Major
Few officials can claim more broad-based expertise regarding Caribbean tourism issues than Beverly Nicholson-Doty, the U.S. Virgin Islands’ tourism commissioner. In addition to her present post, which she has held since 2007, Nicholson-Doty previously served as chair of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO)’s council of ministers and commissioners from 2012 to 2014.
Her experience, perspective and leadership have been instrumental in establishing the U.S. Virgin Islands as a standout within the highly competitive Caribbean tourism marketplace. Indeed the destination’s solid period arrivals growth in 2015 coincides with expanding visitor arrivals across the region.
We spoke recently with Ms. Nicholson-Doty recently to discuss the U.S. Virgin Islands’ 2015 tourism success and her plans to continue the country’s arrivals growth in 2016.
TravelPulse: The U.S. Virgin Islands’ land-based arrivals increased 5.3 percent year-over-year in 2015 and occupied room nights among U.S. Virgin Islands hotels was up 65 percent. What do those statistics say about the destination?
Beverly Nicholson-Doty: It tells us two things. Not only are we getting more visitors, but they are paying a higher average rate. Both of those things are very positive coming off a long period, post-recession, of building both occupancy and rates. Higher occupancy and more visitors certainly bodes well for our ability to market the destination.
TP: Certainly the department of tourism’s marketing of the destination has played a role, correct?
BND: Yes, we have to be out there in terms of our marketing, but we also have a lot of gratitude to the people of the Virgin Islands. We can do all of the marketing in the world but if visitors come to our territory and they don’t get a warm welcome they won’t come back.
A large percentage of the people that we surveyed on exit interviews leaving the territory indicate this is their second, third and fourth or more trip and that really is the part that’s telling. That’s the variable that really I depend on our community to be involved with because when you have such a large percentage of your economy that’s dependent on tourism, tourism is really everybody’s business.
TP: Is there a larger impact tied to the improved arrivals and occupancy data?
BND: The bigger story is what this means to the economy of the territory. Certainly we want people to come to our destination. We think we have such unique creative offerings, but tourism also has to work for the people of the destination and the economic impact is often overlooked. For us in the Virgin Islands it represents 30 percent of our GDP, but in terms of overall budget, direct tourism impact is over $1.3 billion for our economy. It really goes to show the impact of tourism on a destination and speaks to the well-being of our people.
TP: What events and attractions can visitors look forward to in the coming weeks and months?
BND: The St. Thomas Carnival celebration is the largest of the three [events are held on the three main islands of St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John] and is coming up at the last week of April. It is a combination of everything from street fairs to arts and crafts, entertainment and food that lasts all week, every night.
Each of our islands has a carnival and a carnival village associated with it because we need a place to laugh and drink and eat all week. Later we will be featuring Dine VI, which is our version of restaurant week, held from Oct. 27 to Nov. 12.
We will have the prix fixe menus but also a full week of additional events on each island, from a food truck event on St. Thomas, to "jump-up" parties in downtown Christiansted and events that incorporate farm-to-table fare and feature our culinary ambassadors. We have everyone involved to mom-and-pop ships to street food to gourmet restaurants. So it really demonstrates the culinary diversity of the destination.
READ MORE: The US Virgin Islands' 10 Best Beaches
During the month of July the landmark society of the Whim Estate are hosting a “Come Back to St. Croix” event. And in 2017 we will be celebrating our Centennial; the 100th anniversary of us being American. Prior to that we were part of the Danish kingdom. So it’s a big year and the celebration of that is important.
TP: What are some other reasons travelers would want to visit the territory?
BND: Of course we have incredible beaches. We have natural vistas that are phenomenal. We have the uniqueness of the rainforest. From a film perspective we have found we can film something that looks like a rainforest on the western end and on the eastern end film a desert. The topography is so varied.
St. Thomas is about shopping, but if you go one street back you have the oldest synagogue in the western hemisphere, you have a church that’s celebrated its 400th anniversary. In less than a mile you have five churches that have exited for 100 years or more. There’s the Camille Pissaro building, which celebrates his being born on St. Thomas; much of his early work is available on view at government house.
Then you go to St. John where two-thirds of the island is national park. It’s a totally different experience. Trunk Bay offers an incredible underwater environment. You can hike to view the petroglyphs going out to Coral Bay on the eastern end of the island. Finally you have the history and culture which is close to the surface in St. Croix. You have such varied experiences in one destination.
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