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Governor Bryan Clarifies New York Jets Partnership Cost; Expresses Concern Over Tourism Dip

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Governor Albert Bryan Jr. stands firm on the recent partnerships forged between the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) and Major League Baseball teams, affirming that the costs are significantly lower than what has been circulating in public discourse.

In a recent candid discussion with the Consortium, Governor Bryan addressed the rumors surrounding the marketing collaboration with the New York Jets. Contrary to the widely speculated $10 million expenditure, the actual annual cost is under $1 million. However, the exact figure remains undisclosed due to confidentiality agreements, as highlighted by the Governor. The partnership with the Jets is structured as a three-year deal, as revealed by Bryan.

These sports partnerships aim at elevating the USVI’s visibility, especially in the metropolitan areas represented by the New York Jets, Chicago Cubs, and Boston Red Sox. Increased attention from east coast cities’ residents potentially translates to enhanced air connectivity between the USVI and the U.S. eastern seaboard, a development Bryan envisions as beneficial for Virgin Islanders.

“The essence of securing more flights lies in ramping up the numbers from that region,” said Bryan. “Hence, allocating funds for advertising in those areas is a strategic move.”

Governor Bryan expressed satisfaction with the New York Jets deal, which is budgeted to cost below $3 million over its tenure of three years. Amid a nationwide tourism downturn, such initiatives to augment visibility and, in turn, visitor arrivals are deemed crucial by Bryan. He cited the noticeable decline in bustling weekends in Miami and a similar slump in the Virgin Islands, terming it a ‘Covid hangover.’

Reflecting on this year’s tourism statistics, Bryan voiced concern. “This year marked the first September and October with scant tourist activity in downtown Christiansted and St. Thomas, a situation unseen for about two years, and it’s unsettling,” he admitted.

Bryan pointed out that individuals who opted for the USVI during the pandemic-induced travel restrictions might now be exploring other destinations. He acknowledged the relatively high cost of visiting the USVI, with average daily rates ranging between $600 and $700, urging local hoteliers to possibly reevaluate their pricing structures.

On a broader spectrum, Governor Bryan is exploring regional synergies to position the USVI as a pivotal hub within the Caribbean. Engagements with the State Department and dialogues with Caribbean dignitaries have been initiated to align the USVI with CARICOM’s objectives. Bryan is optimistic about the potential boom in regional business, but also emphasizes the need for a robust workforce to cater to the anticipated growth. He mused about attracting more individuals from neighboring islands like St. Kitts, Antigua, St. Lucia, and Dominica to bolster the local workforce and foster regional cooperation.

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Tourism

Security Upgrade Proposed for Havensight Mall with Peace Officer Status

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Security personnel at Havensight Mall may soon receive a significant boost in authority as Bill 35-0238, aimed at elevating their status to peace officers, has passed its initial legislative test. Sponsored by Senator Milton Potter, the bill specifically targets qualified enforcement officers from the Government Employees’ Retirement System (GERS) who are stationed at the mall.

Senator Potter highlighted the urgent need for enhanced security measures at Havensight, a prime destination for both locals and nearly a million tourists each year. He cited recent violent incidents, including a 2022 shooting during a robbery attempt and a fatal shooting in the parking lot in October 2023, as key drivers for the proposed security overhaul.

The bill advocates for peace officer training for these officers at the V.I. Police Academy, enabling them to respond to emergencies, enforce laws, and maintain order on the premises. Roy Moorehead, chief security officer of the mall, supports this move as a strategic step to strengthen the safety and security framework at Havensight Mall, enhancing its reputation as a secure venue and boosting local tourism and spending.

Support from GERS and the VIPD, including Assistant Commissioner Sidney Elskoe, underscores the initiative’s alignment with broader public safety goals. The financial impact on the government is minimal, as GERS plans to allocate Havensight Mall’s budget to train and increase the salaries of four to six officers.

During the legislative discussions, Senator Franklin Johnson reminded the GERS representatives of the extensive duties that come with peace officer status, applicable even beyond the mall’s boundaries. Senator Novelle Francis expressed support but cautioned about additional considerations such as insurance, retirement benefits, and training expenses.

Despite widespread legislative backing, Senator Kenneth Gittens opposed the bill, proposing instead to bolster the existing tourist-oriented police efforts by channeling funds directly to the V.I. Police Department and suggesting a merger between the V.I. Port Authority and the West Indian Company to enhance the police budget.

The bill now advances to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary, moving one step closer to potentially transforming the security landscape at Havensight Mall.

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Tourism

St. Thomas USVI Named Top Emerging Summer Destination by Expedia

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Expedia’s latest report has named St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, as the leading emerging destination for summer travel this year. The island has witnessed a significant 45 percent increase in search activity over the past year, attributed to enhanced air service from the mainland U.S. The allure of a Caribbean getaway that does not require a passport for U.S. tourists has boosted St. Thomas’s appeal.

Tourism Commissioner Joseph Boschulte expressed his enthusiasm about the recognition, “It’s terrific to make it into the top ten of Expedia’s Summer Outlook, but clinching the top spot is truly extraordinary. Our team is elated by this achievement and remains committed to promoting our beautiful territory.”

Other destinations on Expedia’s list include San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Cleveland, Ohio, which are drawing attention for their vibrant cultural scenes and dynamic city life. San Juan has recorded a 35 percent rise in travel interest thanks to its picturesque beaches and historical richness, while Cleveland is gaining traction for its trendy atmosphere and diverse recreational opportunities.

The survey further identified Indianapolis, Indiana; Las Vegas, Nevada; Napa County, California; and Honolulu, Hawaii as popular travel spots. Each city offers unique attractions, from Indianapolis’s family-friendly downtown to Las Vegas’s entertainment and nightlife, and from Napa’s vineyard-covered landscapes to Honolulu’s balance of urban and natural attractions.

Emerging destinations like Mackinac Island, Michigan, and Kauai, Hawaii, also made the list, offering visitors serene, nature-oriented getaways. Mackinac Island is ideal for a relaxing summer retreat, whereas Kauai offers a tranquil escape amidst lush tropical scenery.

This broad spectrum of destinations highlights the diverse interests of U.S. travelers, ranging from urban exploration and cultural immersion to peaceful retreats in picturesque settings.

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Tourism

Governor Bryan Launches Annual Tourism Feedback Summit for USVI

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Governor Albert Bryan has unveiled plans for an inaugural one-day summit aimed at gathering extensive feedback from stakeholders in the US Virgin Islands’ tourism industry. Announced during a Monday press briefing, the summit is envisioned as a post-season debrief to celebrate successes and identify opportunities for improvement.

Governor Bryan emphasized the importance of such a debrief, stating, “Following any major event, a thorough review of what worked, what didn’t, and how we can enhance operations is crucial.” He highlighted the summit’s goal to foster more cohesive operations across various sectors such as transportation, lodging, food & beverage, and excursions. The idea is to gather direct feedback from those closest to the tourism activities, encapsulating the experiences of both land-based and maritime visitors.

The governor drew upon his recent experience at the Seatrade convention in Miami, where the performance of the US Virgin Islands’ tourism was praised. “Our industry leaders are enthusiastic about our current trajectory,” he noted. Nevertheless, he sees the local summit as a strategic move to tailor discussions to the specific context and challenges of the USVI.

Governor Bryan has tasked Joe Boschulte and his team at the Department of Tourism with the summit’s organization, stressing the urgency of translating feedback into actionable plans. These actions, according to him, will involve collaborations among the executive branch, the legislature, and private sector partners to amplify the past season’s successes into future enhancements.

Highlighting the tourism sector’s significance, Governor Bryan remarked, “Tourism accounts for 70 percent of our economy, necessitating ongoing enhancement to maintain and boost our market position.” This new annual summit represents a proactive step in ensuring the US Virgin Islands remain a premier destination by aligning stakeholder efforts and directly addressing the industry’s unique challenges.

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