Sept. 29, 2005 When Hurricanes Katrina and Rita demolished areas along the Gulf Coast, the fear that the territory could be next may have had some impact on tourism in the Virgin Islands. However, the answer to how the territory fared in September depends on whom you talk to.
"We've had an amazing September," said Tourism Department spokesman Steve Bornn. He said a fall promotion that gave hotel guests extra value for their dollar paid off. He said it gave travel agents something to sell.
Beverly Nicholson, president of the V.I. Hotel Association, said that one hotelier told her the property's occupancy rate went to 50 percent from 30 percent the previous September.
"But I don't know if that trend held for everybody," she said.
Nicholson said anecdotal evidence shows that more restaurants and shops stayed open further into September than they usually do.
However, the association gets five to 10 calls a day with questions about the possibility of a hurricane hitting, she said.
Brian Postle, director of sales at Marriott Frenchman's Reef Beach Resort on St. Thomas, said the hotel did about 2 percent better this September over last September.
"But September is never a great month," he said.
Putting the hotel's advertising dollars together with those from the Hotel Association definitely paid off, he said.
Joel Kling, who manages Best Western Emerald Beach Resort and Best Western Carib Beach resorts on St. Thomas, said business fell by about 10 percent this September over last September. He said the fear of hurricanes coupled with the fact that airports across the Gulf Coast were closed meant fewer people picked the Caribbean as a vacation destination.
He also expects tourism to drop off during hurricane season in future years. "More and more people are aware of the factor of hurricanes hitting in August and September," Kling said.
That said, he'd take a 10 percent drop in his occupancy rate over a hurricane any day, he added. It took five years to regain equilibrium after Hurricane Marilyn devastated the Virgin Islands in 1995, he said. He had one good season before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks caused tourism to dip for another two years.
Kling said that worldwide, September is a slow month for vacationers. In addition to hurricanes in the tropical regions, people took their vacation during the summer, and children are returning to school.
At the Buccaneer Hotel on St. Croix, sales and marketing director Vicki Locke said September was a little slower than last year.
"It's not that anybody's canceling, but there's not a lot of bookings going on," she said, adding that she didn't know what caused business to drop slightly.
Karen Baranowski, who manages vacation villas on St. John under the Windspree umbrella, said things are quiet, but some villas filled with honeymooners.
She said they know they'll find some restaurants closed, but they like the quiet they find on St. John during September.
However, Baranowski insists that September guests buy traveler's insurance.
"I tell them that if a storm is coming, 'you're leaving and you're not getting you're money back,' " she said.
She's thinking about a similar policy for October, she said.
A slow September is welcome because it gives workers a chance to do maintenance, she said. "We welcome September," Baranowski said.
Terri Gizzi, who owns Tradewinds gift shops in Charlotte Amalie and Christiansted, said that the St. Croix store did better this September than last. The St. Thomas store was about the same.
She chalks it up to the fact that the stores stay open even when it's slow.
"We never had that attitude," she said.
She also said that locals definitely keep her businesses afloat during the slow months.
The Blue Moon restaurant in Frederiksted had no business this September because they had to close last year thanks to the Strand Street road reconstruction project, plus the fact that their new landlord, an Economic Development Commission beneficiary, raised their rent to more than they could afford.
Owner Nancy Cotter said they are reopening the Blue Moon at another Strand Street location Oct. 14.
As for what's ahead, many hoteliers said October looks weak, but things pick up in November and December.
"It looks great," Nicholson said.
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