The lack of leadership and engagement with Carnival Cruise Lines regarding St Croix and the Virgin Islands is appalling.
The cruise lines are one of our major economic partners. Like it or not we have to work with these corporations. Yes, they have been convicted of dumping oil and garbage in our waters. Yes, they have been convicted of defrauding passengers regarding fees. Yes, they have a poor customer-response rating from the South Florida Better Business Bureau. Yes, they have vindictively withdrawn ships from destinations when they have not gotten their way. Yes, they have been very slow to provide business opportunities to local vendors.
But they are nevertheless our partners and thus major attention must be given to interacting with them in the best interest of the Virgin Islands — with our eyes wide open.
Carnival reluctantly started going to St Croix due to the lure of the Port Authority waiving docking fees even though there was no market demand for St. Croix. They went on the condition that demand would be increased to justify their move. Yet little was ever done by the VI Government to increase demand, thus Carnival has been looking for an out. Several months ago, Carnival put us on clear notice that crime was going to be the excuse to leave St. Croix. Please note that crime is bad in several Carnival destinations including St. Thomas and Puerto Rico, but the other destinations mitigate the problem with robust market demand and other crime fighting techniques.
Despite the notice from Carnival, the Virgin Islands did not respond in a satisfactory manner. Some actions were taken and talked about by local officials but the bottom line is plain and simple: not enough was done to mitigate the concerns of our travel partner.
Combined with the mishandling of the Crown Bay project in St. Thomas and the ineffective response to the St. Croix crime problem, Carnival Cruise Lines had the escape hatch they sought.
Clearly the government has mishandled the relationship with the Cruise lines; clearly the government has been ineffective in dealing with crime in the VI. And clearly the government has inflicted a withering economic blow to the people of St. Croix.
Yet the issue is what should be done now!
First: Top priority must be given to developing an ongoing relationship and dialogue between the cruise lines and the Virgin Islands. A "Cruise Ship Czar" needs to be created to be the point person and office to interact with the cruise lines and the related issues.
Second: Market demand for St. Croix must be created via an active advertising and marketing effort. The efforts to date have not been sufficient and Carnival's withdrawal is the evidence.
Third: An active tourism-awareness and service-upgrade program needs to be instituted to raise the quality of the St. Croix destination well above our competitors. St. Croix's present attractions and infrastructure combined with reputations for charm, service and hospitality would fuel a thirst for St. Croix in the tourism world. Everyone in St. Croix has got to buy into tourism as his or her lifeblood — for it certainly is.
Fourth: Economic incentives, such as the continued waiving of fees by the Port Authority, subsidized fuel, sharing marketing cost, etc., need to be pursued with the cruise lines.
Fifth: Crime in the Virgin Islands needs to be addressed now. Even one act of crime is too much, especially on St. Croix where there is a higher vulnerability to the issue. We must attack crime from a comprehensive viewpoint, since it affects all of us — not just tourists. Crime is a problem because there is no economy or opportunity for our youth. Thus a healthy economy is the ultimate solution to crime. But we must first address the symptoms, which is crime, and then the disease, which is the economy. Fliers and brochures tackling the crime issue head-on should be distributed at the cruise ship pier. Organized tours and attractions should be promoted heavily. Taxi drivers should be deputized to orient tourists about the potential crime issue, to steer tourists away from the bad element. Uniformed presence in the fringe areas must be increased. A full commitment from the police department is needed — not just a best effort.
The best of intentions are not enough. We have a crisis of enormous proportions on our hands; the powers that be have failed in almost every aspect.
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