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Local Businesses Happy with Start of Tourist Season


Jan. 4, 2004 –– Tourism-related businesses across the territory had reason to celebrate this Christmas season.
"We did great. We were full," Vicki Locke, director of sales and marketing at the Buccaneer Hotel on St. Croix, said.
Her remarks echoed those of many hoteliers across the territory.
Kathy Demar, who manages vacation villas on St. John, said she had a booming Christmas season. She said she set a 10-night minimum for her 14 houses, but in 10 of them, guests stayed for a full two weeks.
Many said they get families who come year after year to celebrate the holiday season.
"It's remarkably stress free because the guests know all the employees, and the kids band together," Rik Blythe, manager at Caneel Bay Resort on St. John said.
Although most hotels have some sort of festive tradition, Caneel Bay's certainly makes a big splash. When guests depart somewhere around Jan. 1 or 2, Blythe and other staff members jump in the water as the Caneel Bay ferry pulls away from Caneel's ferry dock.
"It dates back to the mid-60s," Blythe said.
Caneel Bay also continues another tradition. After Santa delivers presents to Caneel Bay's guests on Christmas Eve, the Caneel Bay ferry heads to Cruz Bay so Santa can give presents to the 300 to 400 children who show up for his arrival in Cruz Bay Park. Caneel Bay provides the gifts.
Looking ahead, numerous hoteliers said after the expected dip this week, their rooms will be filled up.
"Hopefully the rest of the winter will be lovely," Locke said.
Richard Doumeng, manager at Bolongo Bay Beach Club and Villas thinks it will be. He said that unlike last Christmas and winter season, Bolongo didn't offer a seventh night free.
"And they still came," he said.
He said that it appears several factors are contributing to a strong Christmas and winter season for the Virgin Islands.
Doumeng said many of his guests picked the Virgin Islands because the American flag flies overhead. Additionally, they don't have to deal with foreign customs and immigration procedures when arriving in the territory. While they have to clear customs and immigration on the way north, they do so in the Virgin Islands. The lines are short and the hassle minimal compared to similar procedures in Miami, which is where they'd have to clear if this service wasn't available at V.I. airports.
He also said that the strong U.S. dollar value for Europeans traveling to the Virgin Islands acts as an enticement.
"And the fact that the Renaissance was closed gave a few hotels a bump," he said, referring to the East End, St. Thomas hotel that closed as the Grand Beach Resort last year.
The boom at hotels trickled down to restaurants, shops and activities.
"We did our capacity, which is what we expect during Christmas," Lime Inn restaurant owner Chris Meyer said.
She said, unlike last year when many visitors didn't honor their reservations at the St. John restaurant, they all showed up when scheduled this year.
Doug Benton, who owns Crabby's Watersports in Coral Bay, St. John, said while Tuesday was dead, the week between Christmas and New Year's saw many people coming by to rent kayaks, dinghies and snorkel gear.
"And when it rained, they bought t-shirts," he said.
At Tickles Dockside Pub on St. Thomas, manager Debbie Fleche said the place was very busy.
"From boat crews to locals to tourists to cruise ship people. We had everybody," she said.
Margo Meacham, who owns Gone Tropical gift shop in Christiansted, St. Croix, said she was really busy. She said that while locals shopped the week before Christmas, the week after saw well-heeled visitors spending on whatever they wanted.
"Those who come between Christmas and the beginning of February are seriously rich," she said, comparing them to the budget travelers who visit in the summer.
She said the restaurants were so packed, she couldn't get a reservation anytime between Christmas and New Year's.
At Scuba Shack, located just outside Frederiksted, St. Croix, owner Sue Ward said they had the best Christmas season ever. She said visitors went on open water check-out dives, took classes, did boat dives, and even tried night dives.
"The staff is exhausted and we're all very happy," Ward said, perhaps echoing the feelings of many in the tourism industry.
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