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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, January 31, 2023
HomeNewsArchivesHARDBALL: THE GAME WE DON'T KNOW

HARDBALL: THE GAME WE DON'T KNOW

I was troubled to read the May 13 editorial in the Daily News named "No to head taxes." The Daily News had an opportunity here to sustain our community through the current gut-check being imposed by the cruise lines. It was bad enough that the Editorial Board waited for days after the scary full-page (paid) advertisement by the Cruise Association, but to support its viewpoint is unconscionable.
Our dear community is full of caring, sensitive people who talk to each other extensively about the issues of the day. When inadequate or inaccurate information is placed into that system, the conversations tend to take on a tone of hysteria. Witness the "next hurricane" that always seems to be right behind the one we're in the middle of.
Sen. Vargrave Richards is correct when he says the cruise lines pay more at other ports. Unlike St. Thomas, these other ports are not the most requested destination in the Eastern Caribbean. Unlike St. Thomas, they are not places cruise passengers save their money to shop in, even if there are other shopping ports earlier on the itinerary.
Unlike St.Thomas, they are not located centrally and strategically relative to San Juan and Miami with regard to travel time and distance. Unlike St.Thomas, they are not crushed under the weight of a half-dozen megaships every Wednesday in season, then barraged with complaints about the traffic jams.
The cruise lines are just playing hardball, a game we know nothing about. These companies didn't get rich by letting Caribbean microgovernments walk all over them. They got rich by threats and innuendo, by bullying and complaining louder than the opposition.
Although they claim to be acting in their passengers' interest, in fact, they merely begrudge sharing the pittance that today's cruise passenger spends. When they are faced down (as in the National Park user fee situation) they simply pass the extra cost onto the consumer (marked up, if they can get away with it) and look for the next patsy to menace.
If we add $2.50 to the passenger head tax, and promise to devote it to any cruise-related benefit — police protection; traffic control; destination advertising; taxi driver courtesy courses — the cruise lines will be gratified. If we sweeten the pot, and our own, by letting the ships stay later at the dock, we can reduce traffic congestion and increase revenues from the cruisers. If we apply the tax differentially, then maybe they'll threaten to take their ships to St.Croix, which needs them worse than we do.
The Daily News cites the "days without ships" as warning shots being fired in the head tax war. This is almost too silly to respond to, but it is an example of the way distortion and innuendo come into the conversation.
The absence of ships was planned from the beginning of the season, long before the head tax discussion came to the fore. These companies have no loyalty to us. They are trying to prevent costly weather-related delays during the hurricane season, not just here but throughout the Caribbean.
They are also trying to recruit jaded cruisers to new destinations like New England, Alaska, South Pacific and the Mediterranean (check the Internet for reports of the disaster Kosovo has wrought on their schedules there; they'll be happy to get back to our traffic jams).
In addition, one line has suffered terrible losses from design failures in their ships and all the ships, no matter how new have to go into dry-dock each year. The SS Norway, which was going to try the North Atlantic (read Titanic) last year and never come back to us, wasn't able to generate enough interest in the change and returned here with her Country and Western theme cruise all booked, as usual.
She's away now, but is actually scheduled to visit again starting in August.
Please don't knuckle under to these threats; they're meaningless in the long run. What's worse is to act as cat's paws for a small group of big companies that really don't care about the quality of life in our home.
They will use us in whatever way will profit them most, and then cast us aside like a shipboard romance.
Drew Wallen
St. Thomas

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