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Budget Impasse Forces Tourism Department to Cut Greeter and Entertainer Jobs

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In a significant operational setback, the Virgin Islands Department of Tourism (D.O.T.) has been compelled to lay off crucial staff members, including greeters and entertainers, as the holiday season approaches. These employees, often the first point of contact for tourists, along with DJs who perform at ports and events, are casualties of a broader restructuring triggered by budgetary constraints.

The root cause of these layoffs is the delay in the approval of D.O.T.’s fiscal year 2024 budget. Despite an expected budget of $32.1 million, largely supported by the Tourism Advertising Revolving Fund (TARF), the department has not yet received its allocation for 2024. This financial bottleneck has led to a domino effect, impacting not only staff but also numerous vendors awaiting payment.

Senator Donna Frett-Gregory, heading the Senate’s Committee on Budget, Appropriations, and Finance, expressed her concerns after discussing the issue with Tourism Commissioner Joseph Boschulte and Assistant Commissioner Alani Henneman. She emphasized that the department’s budget, which was approved early and signed off by the governor, should have been operational from the start of the fiscal year in early October. She noted that while other agencies have received their budgets and are being cautious with expenditures, the D.O.T., with its reliance on the well-funded TARF, faces a unique predicament.

Frett-Gregory pointed out that the TARF, fueled by Hotel Occupancy Tax revenues, holds ample funds to cover the D.O.T.’s budget for the fiscal year. She stated that the delay seems to stem from internal disagreements among various departments, including the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Department of Finance.

The senator also highlighted concerns regarding unpaid vendors from the previous fiscal year and stressed the need for clarity on the use of TARF funds, which are governed by specific laws and require Senate authorization for expenditure.

Efforts to contact D.O.T. Commissioner Boschulte and Finance Commissioner Nominee Kevin McCurdy for comments were unsuccessful. However, Frett-Gregory mentioned that McCurdy has committed to resolving the budget issue. She underscored the urgency of addressing these internal issues to prevent further detriment to small businesses and the overall functioning of the department.

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Tourism

Virginia Couple Pursues Legal Action Against Emerald Beach Resort After Harrowing Encounter

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A legal battle unfolds as a Virginia couple takes Emerald Beach Corporation to court, accusing the establishment of negligence and racial discrimination. The lawsuit, lodged in the Virgin Islands District Court, stems from a distressing episode where the plaintiffs were reportedly assaulted on the premises by an individual with a history of violence.

The case centers on Raekoi Evans, who, after an altercation on Lindbergh Bay Beach in April 2022 escalated into a violent encounter, was apprehended. Evans admitted to aggravated assault and battery in September 2023, receiving a suspended sentence of one year, followed by supervised probation, and was ordered to compensate the victims $3,182.25.

The lawsuit further implicates an Emerald Beach security guard and the resort itself, holding them accountable for the damages incurred during the incident. Court filings detail how the plaintiffs encountered Evans and the security guard in a heated exchange that quickly deteriorated, leading to a physical confrontation.

Despite efforts by the security to disperse the gathering, Evans allegedly persisted, later confronting the couple with a group that escalated the situation into violence. The aftermath saw the couple seeking refuge and assistance within the resort, claims of inadequate response from the staff have also surfaced, alleging a delayed action to their plight.

The narrative takes a critical turn, highlighting a post-assault interaction between the security guard and the assailants, suggesting a potential negligence in identifying or holding the other participants accountable. The plaintiffs argue that the resort’s reaction was influenced by their guest status, revealing a concerning layer of alleged discrimination based on racial assumptions.

Legal actions against Evans include charges of emotional distress, battery, and assault, reflecting the severity of his actions. The security guard faces accusations of negligence for not preemptively addressing the threats and allowing known agitators on the premises. The overarching claim against Emerald Beach Resort addresses a broader issue of negligence and alleged discriminatory practices, questioning the safety and inclusivity of its operations.

The legal proceedings aim to secure general and punitive damages, emphasizing the gravity of the allegations against Evans, the security guard, and Emerald Beach Resort. The defendants’ response to these serious accusations remains pending, as the case continues to develop.

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Tourism

The U.S. Virgin Islands Seek Prestige at the World Travel Awards

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The Department of Tourism of the U.S. Virgin Islands has jubilantly shared news of its nominations for the celebrated World Travel Awards, an initiative that honors the best in the global travel, tourism, and hospitality industries.

Celebrating its 31st anniversary, the World Travel Awards are renowned for spotlighting the premier destinations and services in the sector. The Department of Tourism is rallying support from locals, those abroad with ties to the islands, and travel aficionados to back the U.S. Virgin Islands in this prestigious competition. Assistant Commissioner Alani Henneman expressed enthusiasm about the nominations, stating, “The World Travel Awards are a hallmark of quality within the travel sector, and we’re thrilled at the chance to stand among the elite, showcasing the unique offerings of our region. We urge everyone to cast their vote and demonstrate why the U.S. Virgin Islands stands out as a top Caribbean destination.”

The nominations celebrate the U.S. Virgin Islands’ magnetic appeal, highlighting categories such as Leading Beach Destination, Leading Destination, and Most Romantic Destination. Additionally, the nominations for Frenchman’s Reef – Morningstar Buoy Haus Beach Resort, Autograph Collection, and the Westin Beach Resort & Spa in the Leading New Resort category underscore the islands’ commitment to enhancing its luxury accommodations.

The Department is also proud to announce nominations in the Leading Resort and Leading Destination Management Company categories, calling on the international community to support the U.S. Virgin Islands in achieving these distinguished awards.

To lend your support to the U.S. Virgin Islands or for more details about the nominations, visit the official tourism website at https://www.visitusvi.com/.

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Over 45 Million Reached in Dept. of Tourism’s Latest U.S. Virgin Islands Promotion

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The U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism recently celebrated a major milestone in its efforts to attract more visitors to its shores. Commissioner Joseph Boschulte announced the success of their satellite media tour, which broadcasted the allure of the islands to an extensive audience across the United States on January 18th. The campaign, which spanned cities from Atlanta to Los Angeles, was featured in 428 airings, captivating approximately 45.8 million viewers.

Commissioner Boschulte expressed his excitement about the tour’s widespread impact, saying, “It brings us great pleasure to extend an invitation to millions, showcasing our islands as the quintessential Caribbean getaway that’s easily accessible for U.S. travelers.” He highlighted the unique blend of breathtaking natural beauty, rich cultural heritage, and historical depth that the U.S. Virgin Islands offer.

The media blitz introduced several key attractions and developments, including the debut of luxury resorts such as the Morningstar Buoy Haus Beach Resort at Frenchman’s Reef, Autograph Collection, and the Westin Beach Resort & Spa at Frenchman’s Reef on St. Thomas. Additionally, the tour spotlighted the novel Jetcar rentals by VI Exotic Watersports, promising an adventurous experience on the islands’ azure waters.

A focal point of the campaign was the convenience for U.S. citizens traveling to the islands, emphasizing the no-passport-required policy for those flying in from the mainland or Puerto Rico and highlighting direct flight options from major cities.

Boschulte also shed light on the diverse array of activities available across the U.S. Virgin Islands. From the hiking trails of St. John and the pristine beaches like Honeymoon Beach to the world-renowned golf courses and diving spots in St. Croix, and the vibrant shopping and dining scene in St. Thomas. He further noted the appeal of upcoming cultural events such as the St. Croix Annual Agriculture & Food Festival, St. Thomas Carnival, and St. John Celebration, drawing attention to the islands’ rich cultural calendar.

For those interested in exploring the U.S. Virgin Islands and planning their visit, the Department of Tourism invites you to learn more through their official website at https://www.visitusvi.com/.

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