Let me begin at my conclusion: We must all work together to get Carnival Cruise Lines back to St. Croix. Our goal must be the building of the St. Croix economy. Indeed, we must embark on a crusade for St. Croix. We must act — and now! Because if we do nothing, the next headline will be "Hundreds laid off at refinery" as the huge construction project at Hovensa draws to completion. We must look ahead with open eyes, plan ahead, and brace ourselves for what will be a bumpy ride.
Last week the headlines screamed the bad news: "Carnival Cruise Lines calling it quits on St.Croix, pulls all ships from island." But why the shock? Who among our government leaders can claim to have been surprised by this announcement — the commissioner of Tourism? The governor? I think not. They knew — or should have known — that they failed to follow up on the requirements agreed to by the government as set forth in the Cruise Lines Long-Term Operating Agreement.
That agreement required the member lines of the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association and the government to meet within six months to develop a plan for marketing St. Croix to build demand for cruise ship visits to the island. Was this meeting held? No. Why? One can only imagine what the governor and his commissioner of Tourism thought was more important.
It should be emphasized that this meeting was not just a mere formality. Increased marketing of St. Croix and infrastructure improvements formed the basis for the cruise lines' commitment to increase visits.
As co-chairman of the task force that negotiated the Cruise Ship Agreement over a two-year period, I can report that everyone involved knew and understood what was to be done locally in exchange for the F-CCA member lines' commitment to steadily increase the number of cruise ship visits to our islands.
As every successful business executive knows — and every failed one demonstrates — one can never stand still without falling behind. In an economy driven primarily by the circulation of tourist dollars, we must work steadily to improve our tourism product, to market our strengths and solve our problems in order to maintain our competitive advantage.
We can no longer pretend this fundamental rule does not apply to us. St. Croix has much to offer — its historic towns and estate houses, the Whim Great House Museum, a spectacular golf course, fine restaurants, the Botanical Garden, music and cultural diversity, Buck Island — certainly we can do more to market this beautiful island.
But what good will it do to indulge ourselves in the bleating of the blame game? What is to be gained by denying the plain facts that Carnival Cruise Lines had a valid business rationale for its decision?
How sad it was to watch the spectacle of finger-pointing and denial that followed the announcement by Carnival. Like a WWF wrestling match, a stampede to place blame or deny reality was set in motion. Indeed, after reading the quotations from the papers over the last week, one finds only Gordon Finch, executive director of the Port Authority, stating what, I submit, should have been the response of all in positions of leadership: "We need to move ahead and figure out how we are going to get them back." Yes, that is what we must do and what, if we rise above the bickering and backstabbing, we can do.
Carnival Cruise Lines, indeed all the cruise lines, are in business to make money. We want them to come to our islands so our local businesses can make money. Let's not forget the basics. Government's role is to provide the infrastructure — and the security — and then get out of the way and let this happen. We must invest in human resources, in physical plant, in maintenance, in assuring public safety so that we can reap the rewards of private enterprise: jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities for our people, and revenue for our government.
The V.I. government cannot know more than Carnival does about what Carnival customers want. But we know what we have to offer. Government can and must present itself as a willing partner to encourage and to assist private business. Government must listen to — and not deny legitimate private business concerns and complaints. Crucian businesses are what must be encouraged and assisted.
It is arrogance of the worst kind for government officials to pretend that they can grow the St. Croix economy. They cannot. Only the Crucian business community can. With government as a partner, we not only can get Carnival's ships back to St. Croix, but we can create a vibrant economy providing true economic opportunity for our people.
John P. deJongh
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