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USVI Sets Course for Nautical Infrastructure Upgrades with New Cruise Passenger Fees

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The Virgin Islands Port Authority (VIPA) Board of Governors has endorsed a new Capital Cost Recovery Charge (CCRC) of $5 per cruise passenger to fund crucial improvements to its cruise terminal facilities. This development lays the foundation for Executive Director Carlton Dowe’s vision to bring state-of-the-art maritime amenities to the region.

In a recent meeting, the VIPA Board authorized Carlton Dowe to commence talks with the Royal Caribbean Group for the implementation of the new charge. This CCRC is slated to take effect from the first day of January 2024 and is directed specifically towards the Royal Caribbean Group and its allied cruise lines that utilize the Austin “Babe” Monsanto Marine Terminal in Crown Bay, St. Thomas.

The funds garnered through this charge will primarily go toward the Crown Bay District Upland Development Project, also located in St. Thomas. Key elements of this ambitious venture include the building of an additional cruise ship dock at Crown Bay and vital dredging activities, which are necessary for accommodating larger vessels.

Moreover, Carlton Dowe has been authorized to apply an identical $5 per passenger CCRC for the Royal Caribbean Group and its affiliated cruise liners that anchor at the Ann E. Abramson Marine Facility in Frederiksted, St. Croix. The capital raised through this fee will be directed toward essential groundwork for infrastructure improvements and further dredging at this location. Once completed, these modifications will permit the docking of larger Freedom-class cruise ships in St. Croix, a notable upgrade from the existing Voyager-class ships that are currently the largest to berth at Abramson’s facility.

Dowe highlighted the significance of this collaboration with the Royal Caribbean Group, emphasizing its value for the U.S. Virgin Islands’ maritime future. “Our alliance with the Royal Caribbean Group is more vital than ever as we aim to elevate our port facilities to world-class standards. This is a strategic move to reinforce the U.S. Virgin Islands’ reputation as a premier cruise destination. While the rest of the Caribbean is advancing, we cannot afford to be left behind. Now is the time for decisive action and forward momentum,” he said.

This strategic initiative demonstrates the commitment of VIPA and the U.S. Virgin Islands to stay competitive in the burgeoning cruise tourism sector. By proactively investing in infrastructure and partnering with key players like the Royal Caribbean Group, the islands are well-positioned to become an even more attractive destination for cruise passengers worldwide. With a projected start date just a few months away, these upgrades mark a significant stride in the U.S. Virgin Islands’ pursuit of maritime excellence.

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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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