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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

USVI Highlights Tourism Achievements at Seatrade Cruise Global 2024

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The U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism showcased their recent advancements and partnerships in the cruise industry at the 2024 Seatrade Cruise Global Conference in Miami, Florida. Led by Commissioner Joseph Boschulte, Assistant Commissioner Alani Henneman, and Deputy Commissioner RoseAnne Farrington, the USVI delegation played a pivotal role at the event.

The conference began with a welcoming barbecue sponsored by the Department of Tourism and hosted by Governor Albert Bryan Jr. This gathering brought together key figures from the Virgin Islands Legislature, Virgin Islands Port Authority, West Indian Company Limited, Magens Bay Authority, and the U.S. Virgin Islands Government Employee Retirement System. Together, they promoted the USVI as a top Caribbean destination.

Commissioner Boschulte emphasized the vital role of cruising in the USVI’s tourism strategy, stating, “Cruise tourism remains a cornerstone for our visitor intake, and Seatrade offers a unique platform for us to engage with industry leaders and share essential updates to bolster our relationships.”

During the event, Boschulte appeared on the Caribbean Spotlight panel, moderated by Michelle Paige, CEO of the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA). Paige lauded Boschulte’s contributions, referencing his accolade as the 2023 Caribbean Tourism Executive of the Year by Caribbean Journal. She noted, “The U.S. Virgin Islands have undergone significant growth, largely due to Boschulte’s leadership in navigating post-pandemic challenges with innovation and a data-centric approach to tourism.”

The USVI team also participated in key discussions with executives from Disney Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Carnival Corporation & plc, exploring ongoing partnerships and new opportunities.

Boschulte highlighted the cruise sector’s robust recovery and growth, pointing out a 13% increase in visitor numbers in 2023 compared to 2019, with over 1.6 million passengers from 495 ship calls. This trend is expected to continue, with an anticipated 5% rise in cruise passenger arrivals in 2024.

He concluded, “Our collaborative efforts with partners like the FCCA and the Caribbean Tourism Organization are a testament to the Caribbean’s united front in tourism. We are committed to providing a safe and welcoming destination, ensuring memorable experiences for our visitors and showcasing the unique attributes of the USVI.”

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Governor Albert Bryan Champions U.S. Virgin Islands at Global Maritime Summit

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Governor Albert Bryan Jr. is at the helm of a distinguished delegation from the U.S. Virgin Islands at this year’s Sea Trade Conference in Miami, Florida, taking place from April 8 to April 11. The delegation’s mission is to reinforce the territory’s eminent position in cruise tourism and maritime operations.

The Governor’s office has announced that Bryan will meet with key players in the industry and join discussions that aim to chart the course for the Caribbean’s cruise tourism future. Governor Bryan stated, “The Sea Trade Conference offers an invaluable opportunity for dialogue with the maritime industry’s elite. It allows us to highlight the unique attributes of the Virgin Islands — our enchanting scenery, rich heritage, and cultural vibrancy — all of which render us the quintessential locale for cruise lines and maritime enterprises.”

During the conference, Governor Bryan is poised to spotlight the recent enhancements in the territory’s port facilities and its commitment to eco-friendly tourism practices. He emphasized, “As frontrunners in sustainable tourism, our pledge is to collaborate with our cruise industry counterparts to foster an ecosystem that thrives for the benefit of coming generations.”

Recognized as the pinnacle gathering for the cruise sector worldwide, the Sea Trade Conference is a convergence point for a myriad of industry stakeholders, including cruise operators, port authorities, and travel professionals. The event promises expansive networking possibilities, educational forums, and debates on the sector’s evolving dynamics.

With Governor Bryan attending the conference, Lt. Governor Tregenza Roach will step in as the acting governor, ensuring the territory’s governance remains uninterrupted.

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U.S. Virgin Islands Marks a Milestone in Air Travel Expansion at Routes Americas

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During the recent Routes Americas 2024 forum held from March 19th to 21st in Bogota, Colombia, the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) Department of Tourism announced a notable advancement in air access and the development of airline partnerships. This achievement was highlighted through the USVI’s impactful presence at the event.

Under Commissioner Joseph Boschulte’s guidance, the USVI delegation demonstrated their strategic acumen in boosting the territory’s aviation connectivity and tourism appeal, as detailed in a department press release.

The delegation’s engagement at the event was marked by fruitful interactions with 13 key industry players, including premier airlines such as American, Delta, Southwest, Spirit Airways, JetBlue, and United. These conversations revolved around strategic openings for new market gateways, enhancements to existing routes, and measures to alleviate seasonal dips, all aimed at propelling tourism growth in the region.

Commissioner Boschulte shared his enthusiasm about the outcomes of these discussions, emphasizing the significant role they played in reinforcing partnerships with crucial airlines and propelling forward the USVI’s air access agendas. “The encouraging feedback from our airline partners serves as a validation of our dedicated efforts to elevate travel experiences within the USVI,” he remarked.

The delegation’s presentation, which detailed market analyses, forthcoming marketing initiatives, and collaborative opportunities, was met with commendation from airline representatives. This reception paves the way for forthcoming joint efforts in schedule coordination and network design.

Commissioner Boschulte also announced an unprecedented surge in air arrivals for the ongoing winter season, marking a prosperous phase for tourism in the USVI. He stated, “The remarkable uptick in air traffic, especially to St. Thomas and St. Croix, reflects the success of our initiatives to expand air access and our strong collaboration with airline partners.”

From January to August 2024, air arrivals in the USVI are projected to see a stunning 28% increase from the previous year, with early 2024 data already indicating an 18% rise from the same timeframe in 2022. The 2023/2024 Continental US Winter season is expected to experience a 25% growth from the last winter and a 15% improvement from the 2021/2022 season.

Particularly, St. Thomas and St. Croix are witnessing significant expansions, with forecasts showing a 20% and an impressive 48% increase, respectively, for the December to March 2023/2024 period over the last winter. Additionally, from January to August 2024, both islands have recorded notable year-over-year growth, with St. Thomas up by 28% from 2023 and St. Croix by 17%, underscoring the territory’s positive trajectory in tourism.

The Department of Tourism remains dedicated to capitalizing on the momentum generated at Routes Americas 2024 to further improve air access, strengthen airline relationships, and ensure exceptional travel experiences. With an emphasis on sustainable development and achievement, the USVI is set on a promising path in the tourism sector.

For more information on the U.S. Virgin Islands and its offerings, please visit: https://www.visitusvi.com/

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