March 28, 2002 – Except for a few pockets on St. Thomas and St. Croix, it looks like the Easter Bunny brought plenty of visitors to the territory for the last of the winter season's big holiday weekends.
"We are busy, busy," said Julie Aleman, manager at the St. John Inn.
She said that she had two sets of guests leave early, but within 20 minutes walk-ins had filled the vacant rooms.
Caneel Bay Resort is filled up, and while the Westin Resort still has a few rooms available for Saturday, operations manager Graeme Davis said the hotel will run about 95 percent occupancy next week.
This winter, St. John hotels fared better than properties on St. Thomas and St. Croix, but many hoteliers across the territory said the winter turned out much better than they expected in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"It was not a banner year, but better than we had feared," said Chris Goodier, spokeswoman at the Buccaneer Hotel in St. Croix.
The Buccaneer has been filled up all week, with one night this week seeing even the last least-desirable room occupied.
Goodier said so many rooms are filled with families that the hotel's kids' camp has 60 participants at the moment. The hotel hires local high school students on spring break to serve as camp counselors. This provides jobs for the young people, she said, and also provides a way for the visiting children to learn about island culture. And, it leaves their parents free to do what they want unencumbered by their offspring.
Goodier said things will slow down for the next couple of weeks but pick up at the beginning of May for the St. Croix Half-Ironman Triathlon.
Divi Carina Bay Resort's $99 special local rate for Saturday and Sunday night has helped fill its rooms, but manager Bob Siefert said the hotel has plenty of off-island visitors, too. "They're playing, eating, drinking and spending money," he said, noting that a group of 30 had just headed off for a daysail to Buck Island.
Siefert put the hotel's occupancy at about 85 percent, which he said will continue into early next week. The Divi, too, has a lot of families, including free-spending teens, he said.
The small Pink Fancy Hotel hasn't fared as well this weekend as the larger St. Croix properties. With occupancy running about 50 percent, owner David Miller said the hotel was doing about the same as last year this time. "I'm not complaining," he said.
On St. Thomas, the small Island View Guest House had a similar story. Owner Norman Leater said the hotel has about a 60 percent occupancy for Easter, but it drops off to about 20 percent next week.
In contrast, the territory's largest property, Marriott's Frenchman's Reef Beach Resort, is having a banner week. "We're sold out, and a lot of our counterparts are sold out," general manager Jayne Hiller said.
At the Renaissance Grand Beach Resort, manager David Yamada said the hotel is about 95 percent occupied. "Lots of great deals on packages and the American sale have been helpful," he said.
Hiller, who is president of the St. Thomas-St. John Hotel and Tourism Association, and many other hoteliers said that many guests booked within the last month. Some, like Leater, even have arrivals call from the airport looking for a room. "It's not like it was 15 years ago," he said, referring to an era when hotels were booked up months in advance.
Siefert said the Internet has been a big boon for bookings, and at least half the hotel's reservations come about because of information found online. While travelers may call the hotel's reservations office once they've done their homework on the web, they're already convinced before they make the call that the Divi is where they want to stay.
While most hotels are doing well this weekend, their guests may be spending less on extras. Caneel Bay manager Brian Young said the resort's gift shop now sells more T-shirts and souvenirs than it used, and guests aren't buying as much high-end merchandise as they used to. And he said that while guests used to eat three times at Turtle Bay, the hotel's most expensive restaurant, they now eat there twice and go to an off-property restaurant or eat in the hotel's bar for the third meal.
Marty Pickholtz, owner of Prime Foods on St. Thomas agrees. His wholesale company sells to many of the island's restaurants. He said the less-expensive restaurants seem to be doing better than the higher-price ones. "People can fill up on a burger and chips as well as a rack of lamb dinner," Pickholtz said.
On the retail side, Nanda Dadlani, an owner of The English Shop on St. Thomas, said that some tourists don't buy the more expensive china and crystal, but they don't buy the inexpensive souvenirs, either. "They just come in and look," she said.
At the Fabric Mill on St. John, owner Trish Capuano said the entire winter season has been good. "The tourists seem to be here, and they're really buying," she said.
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