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TOURISM BUDGET DOWN AND UP

Aug. 24, 2001 – Despite an increase of more than $4 million in the 2001 advertising budget over the previous year, Pamela Richards, Tourism commissioner, expressed disappointment Friday at the proposed decrease in the department's operating budget for the coming fiscal year.
The 2002 operating budget proposed by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull is $3.1 million, down from $3.4 million for 2001.
The department's operating budget is separate from its advertising and promotion budget, which has its own funding source, the Tourism Advertising Revolving Fund.
However, Richards said she expected Turnbull to consider giving her a supplemental appropriation to help run what many feel is the government's most important agency. Tourism is the Virgin Islands' major revenue producer.
The Revolving Fund, which is financed solely by the 8 percent tax placed on all hotel rooms in the territory, cannot be used for operating costs. The $995,000 annual retainer paid to Ogilvy & Mather, the territory's advertising agency, comes out of the fund.
After her testimony before the Senate Finance Committee Friday, Richards was offered advice by several senators on how to improve the territory's tourism product.
The committee chair, Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, said more than advertising is needed.
"We need to develop activities for the tourists when they come to these islands," she said. "We have to make sure those who come have such a wonderful experience that they would recommend the territory for their family and friends to visit."
Hansen made the news a few years ago when she stormed the Cormorant Beach Hotel on St. Croix, pulling a tablecloth off the table of tourists who were having breakfast -– over what Hansen thought were unfair labor practices at the hotel, which was under new management at the time.
Sens. Donald "Ducks" Cole and Douglas Canton agreed that more activities, especially in the off-season months, would stimulate tourism.
Richards said that Warner Brothers On-line had expressed interest in holding two concerts in the Virgin Islands, one in July and one in October. However, she said, those would not be government-supported events; private businesses would need to develop them.
Hansen was critical of how the off-island Tourism offices — which account for about one-third of the Tourism operating budget, $273,958 per year in rent alone — are being operated. She said in the case of the New York City office, located on the sixth floor of a building near Rockefeller Center, there is no visibility.
She suggested the office should be moved back to the ground level at Rockefeller Center where it used to be. Richards said that would cost three times what is being paid now in rent, which is $101,412 a year.
Hansen also suggested resurrecting the St. Croix Jazz Festival, which she said she was instrumental in starting, saying it would improve St. Croix's tourism product.
Richards told the senators that the new Tourism web site, which cost $702,000, is up and running at www.usvitourism.vi and is receiving 25,000 "hits" per day. The site has come under criticism due to what some web experts feel is the exorbitant price paid for its design, nearly two years in the making.
The Tourism hearing had been scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. Friday but was moved to the afternoon at Richards' request because she was scheduled to fly to San Francisco later Friday on Port Authority business. By law, the Tourism commissioner chairs the Port Authority Board.
Committee members present at Friday afternoon's hearing in addition to Hansen, Canton and Cole were Sens. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Carlton Dowe and Norma Pickard-Samuel. Absent was Sen. Norman Jn. Baptiste. Also present were Sens. Emmett Hansen II and David Jones, who are not committee members.

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