Last updated: 05:00 PM ET, Thu December 17 2015

USVI Shifts Focus to West Coast in 2016

Destination & Tourism | Brian Major | December 17, 2015

USVI Shifts Focus to West Coast in 2016

PHOTO: U.S. Virgin Islands tourism stakeholders are seeking to extend the territory’s recent arrivals growth. (Photo by Brian Major).

Eager to build on its recent pattern of growing visitor arrivals, the U.S. Virgin islands will focus on boosting its arrivals from the U.S. West Coast while also launching incentives for the film and media companies to produce projects in the territory.

Speaking at Dec. 9 gathering with media this week at St. Thomas’ Ritz Carlton hotel, Beverly Nicholson-Doty, the USVI tourism commissioner, said her department is attempting to increase the destination’s West Coast visitors in part through “newly directed advertising.”

California currently ranks sixth among U.S. states with 31,682 arrivals to the Virgin Islands in 2014, said Nicholson-Doty. New York (with 63,386 air arrivals in 2014), Florida (50,378) and Massachusetts (44,142) are the top states sending tourists to the territory.

USVI officials are also seeking to expand film and TV production across the territory. The country’s Sustainable Tourism through Art-based Revenue Stream Act offers producers a nine percent rebate based on gross expenditures up to $500,000 said Luana Wheatley, director of USVI’s Tourism Film Office.

Wheatley said the act was revised in March to include music recording and music video production industries as well as to offer incentives including an additional 10 percent refund for productions that include a USVI promotion; a 10 percent rebate for productions filmed on St. Croix; and a hotel tax waiver.

Wheatley said the nine percent rebate “has helped us to engage with outlets that are not otherwise interested.”

Wheatley said HGTV currently visits the territory monthly to film episodes of “House Hunters International.” She said ABC recently filmed a "Rock the Park" episode featuring Virgin Islands national parks.

National commercials featuring Sports Illustrated model Hannah Davis, filmed at Smith Bay Park, have generated $1 million in proceeds and created 40 temporary jobs for island residents, Wheatley said. The territory also boasts facilities for recording and filming music videos, she said.

Wheatley said a local, unofficial USVI film league may be the precursor to more involvement of local residents in the film and TV production. “You can't have a film industry without a crew to support it,” she said.

Nicholson-Doty said her department would also continuing marketing the USVI as an attractive destination for honeymooners, sports fans and cuisine lovers.

The country’s tourism sector showed growth nearly across the board this year said Nicholson-Doty, with hotels and resorts posting higher occupancy, average rate and average length of stay.

Between January and May of this year the U.S. Virgin Islands welcomed 373,495 overnight visitors, and increase of 7.4 percent compared with 2014. Last year the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) hosted 730,367 overnight arrivals, a 3.9 percent increase over 2013.

The USVI continued its run as one of the world’s most popular cruise ports in 2014, hosting 2,083,890 cruise passengers, second only to Cozumel, Mexico and the Bahamas. However Nicolson-Doty said the territory’s retail sector has struggled in 2015 because of a reduced number of cruise ships during the summer, combined with overall cruise arrivals growth in the past few years, she said.

The mid-year 2015 cruise arrivals support Nicholson-Doty’s assertion, as the 928,980 cruise passengers hosted during the period represent a six percent decline from 2013.

Nicholson-Doty’s department will also seek to provide customer service training to local residents as a way to encourage travelers to return to the island, according to said Joyce Griffin, USVI’s assistant tourism commissioner. Nicholson-Doty said about one-half of USVI visitors are return customers.

The department will seek funding to station greeters at points of interest to engage tourists by sharing information, taking pictures and uploading visitors' vacation experiences to social media. The program will employ young people on the island on a rotating basis, teaching customer service skills that can be utilized in tourism-related employment.

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