Feb. 18, 2002 – Last-minute bookings have filled a lot of hotel rooms across the territory for Presidents Day week, traditionally the busiest of the winter season. Wendall Snider, president of the St. Croix Hotel and Tourism Association, says a lot of the business has been a case of "call today and come tomorrow."
Properties as diverse as pricey Caneel Bay Resort on St. John and bottom-budget The Breakfast Club on St. Croix report the same phenomenon.
"People are booking one- and two-week trips within two weeks of their departure date," Caneel Bay manager Brian Young said. He said that the resort has more families than usual for this time of year, which he attributes to the fact that people still hurting from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks want to be with the ones they love.
Jayne Hillner, general manager at Marriott's Frenchman's Reef Beach Resort, concurs with Young's family theory. When people saw there were last-minute deals available, she said, and with their children off from school for the Presidents Day holiday, they decided to take advantage of the opportunity. "People are making snap decisions for their travel plans," she said.
Joel Kling, general manager at the St. Thomas Best Western properties, Carib Beach and Emerald Beach Resorts, sees the Internet fueling the last-minute travel boom. "Lots of people get on the computer on Sunday, see a good deal, book it, and the next weekend they're here," he said.
Despite the fall airfare sale and terrific prices at many hotels, local occupancy rates for Presidents Day week are a mixed bag. Upscale resorts such as Caneel Bay and Frenchman's Reef are full up. "The larger hotels are seeing good occupancy," Hillner, who also is president of the St. Thomas/St. John Hotel and Tourism Association, said.
However, Kling said Emerald Beach is at about 80 percent occupancy this week, down 12 percent over this time last year. And Carib Beach is at 70 percent, down 15 percent from a year ago. He said the two properties have in recent years seen a lot of visitors coming for three-day stays. Since travelers now have to spend more time waiting in line at the airport, they are reluctant to use up hours of their vacation waiting to get to the Virgin Islands for short stays.
Vacation villas, which make up a big part of the St. John visitor market, are filled up. "If you came down to the dock on Saturday, it looked like Christmas," said Kathy Demar, a vacation villas manager.
On St. Croix, the Agricultural and Food Fair, the St. Croix International Regatta and the Good Hope School Caribbean Fine Art Exhibit filled up rooms over the weekend. "It drops off a little bit this week, but not dramatically 'til the following week," Snider said. However, he said that at this time last year, the occupancy picture looked brighter. St. Croix hotel business is off for the entire season, said, citing the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the recession as reasons.
With overnight guests on the islands, cash registers are ringing for restaurants and retail shops.
At Pink Papaya, a St. John gift shop, owner Kate Campbell said people are buying, but instead of spending $200 on something to take home, they'll spend $100. "People are buying middle of the road," she said. But she said the number of people shopping is up compared to last year, so her bottom line hasn't dropped.
At Going Caribbean, a St. Thomas gift shop, business was good over the regular weekend but slow on Monday. "I though we would have more hotel guests because it's overcast," owner Julie Meyer said.
Business also was slow Monday at Indies, a St. Croix restaurant, but owner Paul Stiles said the place was busy over the regular weekend. In fact, he said, business started picking up "strong and steady" on Feb. 1 — and he anticipates it will continue that way.
Chris Meyer, who owns the Lime Inn, a St. John restaurant, said business has been as good as it was last year, despite a slower start to the season.
Hillner and Kling said restaurants at their resorts are doing very well. However, the restaurants at the Best Western resorts see lots of locals, Kling noted, and the Sunday brunches and the West Indian buffet run year round, so local residents are used to eating there. "And usually in the winter residents have more of an income so they go out a little more," he said.
Whether it's turning out to be a good year for them or not, hospitality business owners and managers are thankful the fallout from Sept. 11 hasn't been worse. "We're counting our blessings," Meyer said.


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