Dec. 2, 2004 Hurricane season took its toll on the territory's tourism industry, according to the Bureau of Economic Research Wednesday. Tropical Storm Jeanne, which hit in September, caused a 9.1 percent drop in visitation over the previous September. A total of 102,764 people visited in September 2004 compared to 113,011 in September 2003. The Bureau attributes the decrease to a decline in the number of cruise ships calling. They were forced to change their itineraries thanks to the storms.
The number of cruise-ship passengers visiting St. Thomas fell by 17 percent in September over the previous September. Only 72,764 visited compared to 87,661 a year ago. A total of 27 cruise ships called in September 2004. In September 2003, the number reached 36. No cruise ships called in St. Croix during September 2004 or September 2003.
The September numbers were up on the air arrivals side. The number of people arriving by air in St. Croix nearly doubled over the previous September to 9,913 from 5,540. This represents a 78.9 percent increase.
The air arrival numbers were up only 1.4 percent in the St. Thomas/St. John District to 20,087 from 19,809 in September 2003.
Territory-wide, the September numbers for hotel occupancy averaged 38.8 percent over September 2003's 29.5 percent. In St. Croix, the number stood at 30.6 percent compared to 22.4 percent the previous September. In St. Thomas/St. John, the figure was 41.5 percent compared to 31.6 percent in September 2003.
The territory collected $1 million in hotel room taxes in September. In September 2003, the figure stood at $932,111.
Beverly Nicholson, president of the V.I. Hotel Association, said the September numbers would have been better except that the series of hurricanes battering other places had an impact there.
"The geography of the American people is so poor," she said, noting that such travelers think that when one island is hit badly, all in the region suffered similar damage.
Joel Kling, manager at the Best Western Emerald Beach and Carib Beach hotels on St. Thomas, agrees with Nicholson. He said that some customers' sense of geography is so poor that one couple recently asked him if they could get a ferry from St. Thomas to the Bahamas.
He said that Florida's hurricane problems hurt the territory because passengers often connect in Florida. Even though the major airport in Miami did not get hit, the airport was closed when storms approached.
Additionally, he said that about 20 percent of Emerald Beach's customers hail from Florida. They didn't travel much in September.
The September statistics are the first time the numbers dropped over the same time period in the previous year. However, tourism was up 11.4 percent for the first nine months of 2004 over the same time period in 2003. A record number of 1.9 million people visited the territory during that period.
The number of cruise ship passengers grew by 11.9 percent over the same January to September period the previous year. The number reached 1.4 million. The number of ships calling went up 9.9 percent to 669.
A total of 511,457 visitors arrived by air across the territory, an increase of 9.9 percent over the same nine-month period in 2003.
The territory-wide hotel occupancy rate for January through September stood at 63.4 percent, an increase of 3.2 percent over the corresponding period in 2003.
Nicholson said the Christmas season looks stellar. Nearly all hotels in the St. Thomas/St. John are booked solid. While St. Croix still has some rooms left, Nicholson said bookings are coming in at a good clip.
She said that when St. Croix's three larger hotels The Buccaneer, Carambola Beach Resort and the Divi Carina Bay Resort and Casino do well, it trickles down to the smaller properties.
Roger Carrington at the five-room Carringtons Inn on St. Croix said the bed and breakfast is fully booked for Christmas, "and quite into the New Year."
He said he's seen a recent increase in the number of business travelers staying at Carringtons Inn, which makes him think other hotels that usually get the business trade are filled up.
On St. John, smaller properties also report good news for Christmas.
"We have been booked up for a long time," Robin Clair, manager at Estate Zootenvaal, said.
She said she's had to turn away many, many requests for space at the three-unit complex.
Kling said he expects Emerald Beach to book up for Christmas. Declining to cite numbers, he said that the smaller Carib Beach will probably run about 10 to 15 percent over last year. He said Carib Beach is about to undergo extensive renovations, which should help improve occupancy.
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