The proposal by a consortium of major business organizations in the territory to develop a V.I. Tourism Authority is one which holds tremendous potential for the continued development of tourism to the U.S. Virgin islands. The draft legislation now being developed by the parties taking the initiative should be carefully thought out with a clear picture of the direction the resulting organization(s) will play in the future growth of the territories tourism industry.
During my tenure as Chief of Staff to Lt. Governor Derek Hodge (1993-94), I had occasion to urge tourism interest on St. Croix to form a private sector group along the lines of the tourism promotion boards of the Bahamas.
This model, I felt, having spent some 13 years integrally involved in the worldwide promotion of tourism to the destination, would afford St. Croix a chance to break through and once and for all establish an identity which it could market effectively to potential target audiences in the U.S. and elsewhere.
The Promotion Board concept as developed in the Bahamas was brought into being to address a situation not uncommon to that of the U.S. Virgin Islands. There they were selling one destination, The Bahamas. However, in reality this one destination encompassed three very distinct vacation experiences namely; Nassau and Paradise Island, Grand Bahama Islands (known in the industry as Freeport) and The Family Islands which were made up of more than a dozen smaller islands which catered to a more upscale clientele.
Funding for the management and promotional operations of each of the three promotion boards was derived from the collection of hotel room taxes in their respective jurisdictions. Each board was then free to decide on its own course of action with respect to how it would market its constituency; but, by the same token worked in a highly cooperative manner with the Ministry of Tourism to mount joint promotional efforts which would be beyond the financial means of any or all of the respective boards.
I note that the primary issue behind the proposal is to gain access to the $11 million a year which is generated by the 8 percent hotel occupancy tax.
This is a great idea.
The question is then raised as to how this sum is going to be divided among what I would assume to be the two competing destinations of St. Thomas/St. John and St. Croix.
If the Bahamas model were to be followed each "board," to use the term loosely at this point, would operate based on the tax collected in its jurisdiction. Under the auspices of what is tentatively being referred to as the V.I. Tourism Authority, it would appear that a commingling of funds would be the manner in which funding is achieved.
The problem which arises here is how is it to be determined which "destination" entity gets how much and for what purpose. Not having seen the draft proposal I would suggest that the creation of an "Authority" sounds too formal and could create confusion in the marketplace. It could be perceived that it is just another governmental instrumentality being created as yet another layer to what is presently being done.
The use of the term "promotion board" is unequivocal in its meaning and purpose and leaves little or no confusion in the minds of those it must work with on a daily basis; namely, its travel partners (airlines, travel agents, tour operators, cruise lines, etc.)
Tourism marketing in the U.S. Virgin Islands has long been a situation in which those charged with its execution have been stymied by the lack of funds required to stay competitive.
There were those who were lured into a false
sense of reality by the claims of the territory being Number One in various areas, yet the bottom line never seemed to reflect this positional accolade.
It often seemed that the belief was that "we will succeed in spite of ourselves."
I commend those who have taken this initiative but caution that they not look at the "pot of gold" at the end of the rainbow as being the panacea which will solve the territory's tourism largesse. It is going to take a great deal of planning, marketing and promotional expertise and fiscal management to bring such a proposal to fruition.
Henry 'Skip' de Lagarde