April 26, 2002 – By most accounts, V.I. Carnival has been good for business.
"I don't think I've ever seen a stronger Carnival" in terms of bookings, Joel Kling, general manager of the two Best Western properties on St. Thomas, said. His Emerald Beach and Carib Beach Resorts are across the road from Cyril E. King Airport, and Kling said he's never seen so many St. Croix residents cross the waters for the occasion.
This is the finale week for the 50th anniversary Carnival festivities, which wrap up for most folks on Saturday with the annual Adults' Parade and fireworks show in downtown Charlotte Amalie, although there is a "last lap" dance Sunday night.
Other hoteliers said they've been kept busy with Virgin Islanders who live off-island returning home in strong numbers to celebrate, along with tourists, some of whom times their visit to coincide with the festivities. If you look hard, you might find a room or two available this weekend, but on Friday they were difficult to find on Internet booking sites.
Jayne Hillner, general manager of Marriott Frenchman's Reef Beach Resort and president of the St. Thomas-St. John Hotel and Tourism Association, said family members of hotel employees have filled up a lot of rooms.
At the Reef and at many other hotels, Virgin Islanders and employee relatives are paying discounted rates. And many tourists apparently took advantage of discount deals advertised on the Tourism Department's website, usvitourism.vi. It lists a whole slew of hotels offering special rates.
Some hotels have ongoing promotions of their own with wholesalers, and these helped fill the rooms. But since the rates are lower, hoteliers aren't making as much money as they would like. "Rates are softer than expected," David Yamada, general manager of the Renaissance Grand Beach Resort, said.
Other travel-related businesses also reported Carnival has been a boon.
"We were booked up a couple of months ago," Michelle Thomas, Dependable Car Rental manager, said. A lot of her customers were Virgin Islanders who returned home for Carnival, she added.
At Kmart in Tutu Park Mall, business also has been good. Manager George Newton said the store has been running lots of specials on things people need for Carnival — such as sodas and cameras. "We're not making any money on them, but it brings people into the store," he said.
Newton said business has been brisk all week, but he expects things to slow considerably on Saturday, when thousands of people head to Charlotte Amalie for the parade. "I'll be there too," he said, noting that he can take the time off because the store will not be busy.
While Newton will only have to brave St. Thomas traffic to get downtown, those coming from St. Croix must cross the ocean by plane or ferry. Seaborne Airlines reservations agent Betsy Torres said there were a few seats available for Friday afternoon and that some were available throughout the day on Saturday.
The V.I. Fast Ferry has been running extra trips between St. Croix and St. Thomas since Thursday and will continue to do so through Sunday. The extra runs include one at 11:30 p.m. Saturday so Crucians can head home right after watching the fireworks. Alison Nolan, the ferry company's 'business development director, said ridership has been about 1,500 a day. "Usually, it's only a third of that," she said.
Sinclair Crabbe, owner of Sinclair's Café in Charlotte Amalie, said his place has been packed for the last week. "I've been swamped," he said. A mention of his restaurant on network radio on The Tom Joyner Morning Show has sent numerous customers his way, particularly during Carnival, he said.
On St. John, at the Westin Resort, general manager Gregg Lundberg said that while the hotel was just about full, it wasn't because of visitors coming from off-island to take in Carnival on St. Thomas.
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