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Charlotte Amalie
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HomeNewsArchivesGOVERNMENT TOURISM SITE CAN NOW BE SEEN

GOVERNMENT TOURISM SITE CAN NOW BE SEEN

July 20, 2001 – The government's long-awaited official Tourism Department web site is up and running — although off and on, and unofficially, and still in the process of being fine-tuned and updated. It can be accessed at www.usvitourism.vi.
The first reports of Internet users being able to access the site came last weekend, followed by accounts of Virgin Islands residents having trouble getting it to come online early in the week. By Wednesday the access problems appeared to have cleared up. As of Thursday afternoon, would-be viewers, both in the territory and on the mainland, were being met by the message "This page cannot be displayed," but by late Thursday night, the site was accessible again.
Although nothing was announced by the Tourism Department, officials reportedly had planned to unveil the site officially at a press conference this week on St. Thomas. However, on Thursday, Tourism sources said no launch date had been set. Department personnel referred questions to Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards. Repeated efforts to reach her were unsuccessful.
The web site presents the territory as three different island destinations, with information on various categories available for each. By clicking color-coded boxes throughout the site –maroon for St. Croix, green for St. John or tan for St. Thomas — users can call up information specific to the island of their choice.
A "search" box allows site visitors to type in any topic and see what's there to see on that subject. A request for "blue marlin" information brought up two document summaries — for the "USVI Welcome Center" and for "Welcome Center — About Our Islands." The Welcome Center features messages from Gov. Charles W. Turnbull and basketball superstar Tim Duncan, who grew up on St. Croix and is under contract to the territory as an official spokesman. Duncan tells potential V.I. visitors that whether they opt for "intimate accommodations at a bed and breakfast inn or the upscale amenities of one of our many luxury resorts, you will be treated like family."
One source close to Tourism was quick to explain Thursday that content is being added to the site regularly. Department employees have been trained to handle the ongoing updates.
To access some text documents — notably information in brochure format — users must have — or can download, at no charge — the Adobe Acrobat Reader program. To view the numerous video images, they need — and, again, can download at no charge — Quick Time Player software, available in both PC and Macintosh formats.
Who's been responsible for what
The site was designed by IBM for about $750,000, according to Tourism officials, and IBM has agreed to host the site — that is, provide the "platform" that supports it, along with many others, in cyberspace — for a year without charge, then continue doing so for $50,000 a year.
Two local Internet-related private-sector entities have played or are playing a role in making the web site a reality:
Cobex is the world-recognized registry for the "dot-vi" domain, which is being utilized by the Tourism Department site. (Other V.I. government sites carry a "dot-gov-dot-vi" address, the main one being www.gov.vi — which "is under construction," according to the home page.)
The "dot-vi" domain "is one of 244 country code top-level domains," Dotty Sparks of Cobex said. "Each country code is derived from the International Standards Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. They are two-letter country codes, and almost all of those have a designated manager."
Cobex, however, is a registry, not a domain name management service. A registry, Sparks said, simply "registers and maintains" a domain name, and thereby "points where to find it."
Cobex provided the "no-charge registration, and we have had nothing more to do with it" [the Tourism web site], except for informal talks with the web designer and with the IBM project manager about the international protocol for use of the "dot-vi" domain, Sparks said.
Sparks, in contrast to most information technology professionals who have voiced their views, said $750,000 to design a complex web site is not excessive. In fact, she said, "in the trade, the going price for a major web site is $4 million. Seven hundred fifty thousand sounds like a high price, and it is on St. Thomas, where design has been sold on a hobby-pricing basis. But it's not that much by industry standards."
Domain name management service, on the other hand, Sparks said, usually comes from the Internet service provider, or ISP. The ISP for the Tourism site, thus far, on a "testing and trials" basis, has been VIAccess, a service of Wireless World, which is owned by Atlantic Tele-Network, or ATN, all of which are based on St. Thomas and owned by Cornelius Prior.
"We are providing connectivity, linkages" to the Internet, Christopher Kolm, chief executive officer of Wireless World, said, referring to VIAccess and its relationship with the Tourism site. "We have been in testing and trials for the last year, basically providing service to the government at no cost, trying this out."
With the site about to be launched, Kolm said, "We are in contractual negotiations with IBM to offer this service" commercially.
Kolm said VIAccess is "in some sense a subcontractor to IBM. They are the contractor to the government. They're setting up the net not only for Tourism but for a variety of government services." VIAccess, he said, offers "a certain functionality that they need."
What difference a year makes
In June 2000, Rafael Jackson, newly confirmed Tourism commissioner (who resigned in October), said the department was "in phase one" of getting its web site up and running and that talks were under way with IBM, although no contract was in place. The effort was being coordinated out of the Tourism office in Atlanta, where the government's recently signed advertising agency, Ogilvy & Mather/Atlanta, is based. IBM is one of Ogilvy & Mather's largest clients.
Jackson at the time dismissed a figure of $1.5 million ascribed to him earlier as the cost of getting the web site designed and operational. "I have always estimated the cost of the site at around $350,000," he said.
Saying he envisioned "a very interactive site" with "a lot of data and lists of all the hotels and businesses in the Virgin Islands" and "links to travel agents" for viewers to make reservations, Jackson then added, however, "It will not be an e-commerce site." In other words, those visiting the site would not be able to make reservations or purchases, or be linked to other commercial hospitality sector sites that would allow them to do so.
As of Friday morning, Jackson's vision had been changed in two categories: There were links to commercial hotel and airline sites.

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