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U.S. Virgin Islands Prepares for Winter 2023 with Triumphant VIPCA Yacht Charter Showcase

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The Virgin Islands Professional Charter Association (VIPCA) recently concluded a highly successful event at Yacht Haven Grande, as announced by the V.I. Department of Tourism. The event, which ran from November 11th to 14th, was a vibrant showcase of the U.S. Virgin Islands’ thriving yacht charter sector.

Kicking off with a dynamic Carnival Parade, the event captured the essence of the Virgin Islands’ cultural heritage. Cultural Dancers, Moko Jumbies, and majorettes led the procession, accompanied by a steel pan band. Their performance through the marina set an exuberant tone for the event.

According to the Department of Tourism (D.O.T.), the event was a pivotal stage for displaying a diverse range of yachts and crews. This platform provided brokers a prime opportunity to find ideal matches for their clients. The upcoming 2024 trends indicate a preference for larger vessels, a wide variety of water sports, and the unique addition of dogs as part of yacht crews, a concept that has been well-received by guests.

The event showcased over 70 yachts, varying from 42 to over 105 feet in length, including power and sail vessels, multihulls, and monohulls. This array offered attendees a comprehensive view of charter options available at Yacht Haven Grande in St. Thomas.

Joseph Boschulte, the D.O.T. Commissioner, expressed his excitement about the event’s success. He stated, “The VIPCA Yacht Charter Event at Yacht Haven Grande is a testament to the exceptional charter experiences offered in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The impressive attendance of national and international brokers highlights the increasing appeal of our islands. We are looking forward to hosting even more visitors in the Winter 2023 season and beyond.”

The resilience of the U.S. Virgin Islands’ charter yacht industry is noteworthy, having overcome challenges like hurricanes and the global pandemic. It now generates $88 million annually and positions the U.S. territory as a premier destination for bespoke, crewed yacht charters in the Caribbean.

The event concluded with an awards ceremony, featuring remarks from Assistant Commissioner of Tourism Alani Henneman. This ceremony celebrated the charter industry’s achievements and marked the successful close of the event.

The 2024 USVI Charter Yacht Show is scheduled for November 8-11 in St. Thomas. For further details and registration information for boats and brokers, please visit the event website at www.usviyachtshow.org.

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Tourism

Partial Budget Allocation Revives V.I. Dept. of Tourism Operations

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The Virgin Islands Department of Tourism (D.O.T.) received a crucial partial budget release on Tuesday, providing a lifeline for essential operations over the next three months. This crucial funding allows the department to maintain key services and settle some pending vendor payments.

Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Jenifer O’Neal confirmed the development during a WTJX Radio interview. “The department now has access to their fiscal year 2024 budget, at least for three months,” Ms. O’Neal explained. “This includes October, November, and December funds, now available in the ERP system, enabling immediate spending.”

This development follows intense scrutiny and reporting by the Consortium on the prolonged delay of D.O.T.’s budget, which led to operational challenges and workforce reductions. Senator Donna Frett-Gregory, a vocal advocate for resolving the funding impasse, has communicated concerns to the Dept. of Finance and OMB leaders, urging a swift resolution.

Sources revealed to the Consortium that Ms. O’Neal expressed frustration with the D.O.T. and Dept. of Finance for alleged excessive spending by the D.O.T. The exact amount of this overspending, rumored to be in the tens of millions, remains unclear, as is the Department of Tourism’s stance on these claims. Efforts to reach Joseph Boschulte, D.O.T. Commissioner, for comments have been unsuccessful.

Senator Frett-Gregory, chairing the influential Committee on Budget, Appropriations, and Finance, intends to hold a Senate hearing to delve deeper into this issue. Key officials from OMB, Dept. of Finance, and Dept. of Tourism are expected to testify.

The D.O.T.’s budget, primarily funded by the Tourism Advertising Revolving Fund (TARF) from Hotel Occupancy Tax revenues, was proposed at $32.1 million by the Bryan administration for FY2024. This funding is vital for the department to stay competitive in the tourism market. Despite the hold on its budget, which hindered financial commitments for months, the recent release of funds is a welcome relief for vendors. However, the extent to which the three-month allocation will cover the backlog of operations and vendor invoices is yet to be determined.

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Tourism

Honeymoon Beach in St. John Vies for Top Spot in USA Today’s Prestigious Caribbean Beach Award

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The U.S. Virgin Islands’ Department of Tourism is rejoicing in the prestigious nomination of Honeymoon Beach on St. John for the USA Today’s Best Caribbean Beach award. Located in the exquisite Caneel Bay, Honeymoon Beach is one of the 16 remarkable beaches on St. John, a testament to the island’s natural splendor.

St. John, with 60 percent of its territory under the guardianship of the U.S. National Parks, boasts a rich tapestry of lush foliage, pristine beaches, and a thriving marine ecosystem. This protective measure has been pivotal in preserving the island’s unspoiled beauty, as noted by the Department of Tourism.

The announcement, made by USA Today on Tuesday, includes Honeymoon Beach in its carefully curated shortlist. This selection, crafted by a panel of experts, now opens the door for the public to cast their votes for their preferred beach until January 1, 2024.

Commissioner Joseph Boschulte of the Department of Tourism shared his elation and pride over this significant nomination. “The inclusion of Honeymoon Beach in this prestigious list is a reflection of our enduring commitment to environmental stewardship and the enchanting appeal of our territory. We are deeply honored by this recognition and urge everyone who has cherished memories of the beach to vote and share your stories,” he remarked.

The Department of Tourism is mobilizing community engagement, inviting both residents and visitors who have experienced the tranquil allure of Honeymoon Beach to partake in the voting process. This effort underscores the community’s support for one of USVI’s most valued natural wonders. The nomination is not just an honor, but also a recognition of the U.S. Virgin Islands’ continuous efforts in preserving and showcasing its magnificent coastal landscapes.

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Tourism

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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