Nov. 9, 2004 As 12,646 cruise-ship visitors from five different ships explored St. Thomas Tuesday, Edward E. Thomas, West Indian Co. Ltd. president and chief executive officer, told a gathering on one of those ships about plans for many, many more future visitors.
Aboard the Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas, Thomas told the Ad Club of St. Thomas that fiscal year 2003-2004 had been the best ever. Despite three weeks of traffic limited by severe storms, Thomas said, St. Thomas had 1, 920,589 passengers 1,367,828 in the peak period and 552,761 in the summer.
He reminded his audience, "When I spoke to you in November last year, I stated we were boldly projecting 1.9 million passengers for the fiscal year."
At that time, Thomas had also said passenger spending was on the increase, and that Department of Tourism figures placed it at more than $225 per person. In fact, he said Tuesday, the Bureau of Economic Research placed the figure this year at $273 per passenger, the highest spending in the Caribbean.
"It is obvious," Thomas said, "that we here in this district have fully recovered from the effects of Sept. 11."
Thomas had nothing but good news for St. Thomas and topped that with a bit of good news for St. Croix, which has not had regular cruise ship calls since 2002. Thomas said the Mediterranean Shipping Company has scheduled seven calls to Frederiksted this season. The vessel Opera will call on Dec. 8, 2004; Jan. 19, Feb. 2, Feb. 16, March 2, March 16 and March 30, 2005.
Thomas answered some questions about the recent announcement of cruise ships refueling in St. Croix in the evening, but he deferred most of them to Monique Sibilly Hodge, assistant tourism commissioner. Thomas did say, however, that he thought the exposure of the island to the passengers would generate interest in St. Croix. "We hope this will be a catalyst to convince the major players to consider returning to St. Croix," he said.
Starting mid-November, and continuing through March 2005, Royal Caribbean cruise ships will be calling on Frederiksted four to five times a week to refuel. Hodge said two night tour operators are already signed up for the evening visitors. (See St. Croix Source "Royal Caribbean Cruise Ships To Bunker On St. Croix ").
Royal Caribbean leads the way in bringing several new ships this year, Thomas said, with Jewel of the Seas and Serenade of the Seas. Also, he said, St. Thomas will have all voyager type vessels, "such as the one we are on now, in our market." This, he said, makes St. Thomas the only destination in the Caribbean with this distinction.
And Norway is shining on the Caribbean again, Thomas said. In the 2005 season, he said, "Norwegian Cruise Lines will be a major player again as in the glory days of the legendary S. S. Norway."
The Norwegian Dawn and the Norwegian Spirit will make calls every 10 days between October 2005 and April 2006, and the new Norwegian Jewel, which will be launched in August 2005, will be making bi-weekly calls.
On a further horizon, Thomas said, Royal Caribbean Lines newest Ultra Voyager vessel, to be launched in the spring of 2006, will make regular calls here. "The ship is 100 feet longer than the vessel we are on today and will carry almost 4,000 passengers," he said. The WICO dock is being extended 125 feet to allow for the vessel, and construction will begin in the summer of 2005, according to Thomas.
Thomas said WICO would issue the summer schedule and a preview of the 2005-2006 season when he returns from the annual Seatrade conference in March. "We are about 50 percent of the way with that schedule," he said.
No matter how much we diversify, Thomas said, tourism is still our main product. It accounts for more than 60 percent of the gross territorial product. He gave figures backing up a healthy tourism growth.
Hotel occupancy taxes increased from $13 million in 2003 to $14.6 million in 2004, a 12 percent increase. Gross receipt taxes a true measure of spending increased from $100.7 million in 2003 to $113.3 million in 2004, a $12.6 million increase.
However, this is not the time to rest on our laurels, Thomas cautioned. "Competition for the tourist dollar is stronger than ever." With a big smile, Thomas said his ideal week would see five ships every day three at the WICO dock, and two in Crown Bay.
Thomas said he is still awaiting word from the V.I. Port Authority, which manages the Crown Bay dock, that the south dock is ready to receive ships. Crown Bay is in the midst of a major building project, which includes a shopping facility and dock improvement.
The most elegant of all liners, Cunard Cruise Lines' Queen Mary II, returns to St. Thomas Saturday, and will make 13 calls on seven consecutive Wednesdays from Jan. 12 to Feb. 23, 2005. St. Thomas was the first U.S. port for the majestic liner on her maiden voyage from England last January.
For a further look at the coming cruise season and the schedule, (See "New Season Cruise Ships: 1.4 Million Visitors Expected").
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