Last week, a big to-do was made as the whether or not a new Virgin Islands tourism website was the official USVI Tourism Department site. Well, the truth be told, it is not!
However, while the site needs refinement and extensive editing and enhancements, the fact that many people mistook it for the official USVI website speaks volumes. Everyone is eager to see what $750,000 can buy.
The Source story "Unofficial tourism site causes concern", reported on the site's launch, stating that the domain name vitourism.com and the website are the property of St. Thomian Alma Francis.
According to the article, Ms. Francis claims the site cost her $75 and took her about a month to create. This is in stark contrast to the reported $750,000 that Tourism has spent — and still no site is operating yet. While Francis's figure of $75 may be a bit understated, the creation of a website does not typically run anywhere near $750,000. What a waste of government funds and a blatant ripoff!
Why has this happened? Simply put: As native Virgin Islanders, we do not believe that we are capable of doing anything grandiose. We marginalize ourselves and our talents, putting them on the back burner and allowing smooth-talking outsiders to convince us that if it's imported, it's better. In many cases, some of these smooth talkers have never done anything that they claim to have done and are using the USVI as a training ground.
As a local information technology professional, I have seen consultants and other wannabes come to the islands and take the government and its "leaders" to the cleaners. And it happens at all levels. Some managers in government have even abdicated their mandated responsibilities at the risk of fraud and criminal intent.
As a proud University of the Virgin Islands graduate (1988/'95) and a holder of several computer certifications, it pains me to know that our very own could be duped into believing that a website costs $750,000. What a joke! Right at UVI, students develop and manage the university's site — on a volunteer basis. Imagine what UVI could do with half of that $750K!
How much does a commercial website cost? Well, I am working on one right now, and here are some of the cost outlays.
Domain Name Registration: $65 for five years. A .vi or .tv or .bus might cost a little more, but for a hundred bucks, you can have your own name. The V.I. government did not need to pay for a domain name, since the .vi domain suffix is the property of government — or was, until they gave it away, literally, to a local technology company. Another case of government ineptitude!
Web Hosting: $600 to $1,200 per year. The amount varies with the services needed from the web hosting firm. At the least, $600 gets you a dedicated hosting server (it's yours, essentially), 99.9 percent guaranteed uptime, unlimited e-mail addresses, an online shopping cart facility and web site management statistics beyond up the wazoo.
Webmaster: I have access to several high-end web designers who reside on island or are native Virgin Islanders living abroad. But with the Internet, the location of the webmaster is a non-issue. The fact is, a locally talented web designer can cost you from $25 per hour to $300 per hour. On large commercial projects, they bill by the project. Several Java and HTML gurus whom I have access to have indicated that for the USVI website, a fee of $50,000 to $125,000 would be in order. Where in that range would depend on the features and programming the client would require.
Custom Graphics: As with webmasters, we have tons of digital art talent here at home. Mention Lois Ible Jr. and you are talking about the one of the islands' best. Graphics from ice to iguanas, palm trees to pineapple slices can be drawn — with a local flair. The cost comes to about $30 per custom image, with digital copyright and protection.
Web Site Software Suite: $1,500. This would include top-end programs including Adobe Photoshop, Macromedia Flash, animation software and a web design software tool like Adobe's GoLive, NetObject Fusion or Dreamweaver.
Yearly Maintenance (Site Management and Updating): $5,000 to $10,000. This depends on the type of maintenance required by the client.
According to one report, the Commissioner of Tourism is awaiting a $50,000 allotment to pay for the site hosting. $50K for a year of hosting! My friends, the USVI government is being taken to the cleaners once again.
Speak out and let your leadership know that this type of fiscal carelessness must stop. It is time for the party to come to an end.


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