Private-sector tourism officials are scratching their heads following Gov. Charles Turnbull’s statement Monday night that they should match a government contribution of $1.5 million to market the territory this summer.
In his State of the Territory address, Turnbull announced that he would use $1.5 million from the government’s general fund, to be matched by the private sector, for advertising. But tourism representatives in both districts said Turnbull’s proposal may have been a misstatement because the government already collects some $11 million annually in hotel occupancy taxes to market the territory as a tourist destination.
"To be totally honest, that caused us to chuckle," said Beverly Nicholson, executive director of the St. Thomas St. John Hotel Association. "Perhaps someone hasn’t explained how the ($11 million) is derived. Telling us to match the money is of concern. St. Thomas-St. John already outspends the government two-to-one on advertising."
Peter Locke, president of the St. Croix Accommodations Council, was equally disturbed by the governor’s remarks. He said that theoretically, the $11 million in occupancy taxes and Turnbull’s proposed $1.5 million should go toward promoting the territory.
"Does that mean we get $12.5 million?" asked Locke.
Nicholson said her association hasn’t been able to ascertain how much the Department of Tourism spent on advertising the territory for fiscal year 1999. But because some of the association’s members are seeing a 40 percent decline in business from over a year ago, she said the government’s efforts, and Turnbull’s proposal, aren’t encouraging.
"The $1.5 million is a drop in the bucket compared to what the private sector is spending on marketing," Nicholson said.
The government’s approach to marketing the territory has already caused the private sector to submit draft legislation that would create a tourism authority comprised of individuals from business and government.
But in his address Monday, Turnbull instead proposed the creation of a tourism advisory council. While Turnbull’s idea stops short of creating a private-public tourism board "with some teeth," Locke said the tourism industry will cautiously accept the governor’s proposal.
"I think perhaps it’s a good step," Locke said. "We can’t fault him for that. I think with big government, there is a reluctance to relinquish control."
John DeJongh Jr., president of the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce, said that while the private sector’s goal is a tourism authority, Turnbull’s proposal is a step in that direction.
"I look at it as an initial step," he said. "I think government is evolutionary, not revolutionary. The (draft) bill calls for a joint board. That to me is where we should be ultimately."


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