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BUSINESS LEADERS: DE-POLITICIZE TOURISM

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Leaders of the business community say Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's ouster of acting Tourism Commissioner Michael Bornn requires immediate action to de-politicize the Tourism Department.
Richard Doumeng, president of the St. Thomas-St. John Hotel and Tourism Association, and John P. deJongh Jr., president of the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce, met with the press corps and a smattering of others Wednesday morning to state their common position.
Both men called for the immediate establishment of a public-private sector advisory board with the power to make decisions about tourism.
One decision requiring immediate action is the selection of an advertising agency to represent the Virgin Islands. That process was delayed first by Hurricane Jose and then by the Bornn firing.
"The marketing of tourism needs to be taken out of the political process," Doumeng said.
DeJongh said the two groups are working with the Legislature on initiatives to make Tourism independent.
DeJongh also said as chairman of the governor's Economic Recovery Task Force, he has serious concerns about the Omnibus Act of 1999 now being considered by the Legislature.
The act imposes fees and tax increases that would seriously deter businesses from coming to the territory, he said, adding the Legislature had been approached about removing the new fees and taxes from the bill.
DeJongh and Doumeng agreed too that the job responsibilities of the Tourism commissioner must change.
"It is a full-time job," Doumeng said.
By law the Tourism commissioner now is charged with chairing the V.I. Port Authority board and the Industrial Development Commission board. These extra assignments need to be eliminated from the commissioner's portfolio, the two men said.
"It's time to put forth an Economic Development Commission," deJongh said.
There has been discussion during the recent budget process and before of combining the IDC, Government Bank and other related agencies under one roof and appointing a lead person to work specifically with businesses interested in investing in the territory.
Another big issue for Tourism is the advertising budget, which theoretically is funded by the Tourism Revolving Fund. The revolving fund is made up solely of the 8 percent hotel-room tax collected by hoteliers and then turned over to the government.
Bornn had said repeatedly during his brief tenure that the territory realistically needed to spend a minimum of $20 million to begin to advertise the territory properly.
Neither deJongh nor Doumeng could say how much was in the Tourism Revolving Fund.
Some business people believe there is nothing in the fund, which is mandated to be used exclusively to market and advertise the territory as a destination, because the money has been siphoned off to help meet the government payroll.
Business leaders on St. Croix demonstrated Tuesday at the Lieutenant Governor's Office, demanding that Bornn be rehired.
Turnbull has said he will not reconsider his decision to sack Bornn.
The governor fired Bornn on grounds that he was not a team player and that the two had irreconcilable management styles. Bornn, an investment counselor, had openly criticized the governor's proposal to float a $130 million bond issue to meet December's payroll and pay some long-overdue government debts.

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