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HomeNewsArchivesANOTHER CRUISE LINE PULLS AWAY FROM ST. CROIX

ANOTHER CRUISE LINE PULLS AWAY FROM ST. CROIX

May 15, 2002 – Norwegian Cruise Line has canceled port calls on St. Croix for at least the next two seasons, Edward E. Thomas, executive director of The West Indian Co., announced Wednesday at a meeting of the Public Finance Authority board.
The announcement, coming on the heels of the recent cancellation of Carnival Cruise Lines visits to St. Croix, appeared to catch PFA board members off guard.
Kenneth Mapp, newly appointed PFA director of finance and administration, asked Thomas if the cancellation was permanent, or just an itinerary change. Thomas said that would be mostly a matter of "semantics," as cruise lines frequently change itineraries.
Thomas said the line has decided to call at St. Kitts instead of St. Croix for the next two seasons starting this November but did not give a reason for the change. The Norwegian Sky had been scheduled to make eight calls at Frederiksted between Jan. 4 and April 12, 2003, according to the current Port Authority schedule. Figures for the ship's visits in 2002 were not available Wednesday, although a VIPA representative said she would supply them Thursday morning.
"All is not lost," Thomas quickly added in his report to the board of the PFA, which owns The West Indian Co. As an example, he said, Holland America line canceled calls last year but is returning this year. Holland America's new megaship Zuiderdam will start making year-'round calls on Dec. 24, he said, and two more megaships are in the pipeline — the Norwegian Dawn, which is to begin year-'round visits on Dec. 31, and Navigator of the Seas, scheduled as a seasonal caller starting next Jan 21.
Thomas said a long-term agreement between the V.I. government and the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (F-CCA) provided for its member cruise lines to increase their calls to St. Croix, but only after an agreed-upon "enhanced" marketing plan was in place. That plan needed to be finalized six months after the signing — or by April of this year. Gov. Charles W. Turnbull was the final signatory to the agreement, at a regional tourism meeting in Aruba in October.
The agreement specified that the Tourism Department would host the visit to St. Croix of cruise line sales and marketing executives who would provide input toward marketing the destination, developing a list of on-shore passenger activities and events, and making specified infrastructure improvements. (See "V.I. ignores task force in cruise line pact p.r.".)
Thomas said, "To my knowledge, the plan has not been prepared. As late as February, the F-CCA president, Michele Paige, wrote Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards reminding her of the need to move ahead with the plan."
Richards says a plan is in place
Contacted late Wednesday afternoon, Paige did not return a call. Richards, speaking from her St. Croix office later in the afternoon, said this was the first she had heard of Norwegian Cruise Line's plans to pull out of St. Croix. She expressed surprise that neither VIPA nor the Tourism Department had been informed. Richards, as Tourism commissioner, chairs the Port Authority board.
Richards said she was aware of the F-CCA deadline — and that the Tourism Department has a marketing plan in place. It has been worked out with Tourism's mainland public relations agency, Martin Public Relations, and its national advertising agency, Ogilvy & Mather Atlanta, she said.
"In January, I invited all the cruise lines to come down for a conference, but only three were available at that time," Richards said. The F-CCA has 13 member lines. "So instead, we held a two-hour-long conference call with the three lines. But we need input from all of them."
Richards said she has scheduled a meeting with all the cruise lines for June 4 and 5 on St. Croix to present the Virgin Islands plan and to get their input. "We have been implementing the plan and speaking with the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce, who is also involved," she said.
"I don't know who has responded yet" to attend the June meeting, she said. "They were invited by letter and by fax, giving them a two-week window."
Jeff White, president of Ogilvy & Mather Atlanta, wrote the Source last week outlining the agency's St. Croix marketing efforts. (See "Agency promoting St. Croix 'above and beyond'".)
Thomas said even though a scholarship program that had been included in a draft version of the agreement with the F-CAA was removed from the final version, the association is "making good on its commitment." At the annual Seatrade convention in Miami Beach in March, he said, a $50,000 check was presented to Gov. Turnbull representing the cruise lines' contributions for the first two years of the four-year program.
Paige had said last fall that the scholarship provision was removed from the long-term agreement not because there was opposition to the concept but because it was something that needed to be addressed outside of the agreement.
Neither a banner year nor a bleak one
Thomas said that 2001 for WICO had been "on the way to another banner year, when the events of Sept. 11, totally derailed the travel and tourism market worldwide." After the terrorist attacks, he said, deployment patterns shifted "in a helter-skelter fashion." He quoted a cruise line official saying, "Itineraries that used to take two years to develop are now being created in 15 minutes."
The figures are not bleak for Fiscal Year 2002, despite the problems, he said, providing these territorywide cruise passenger arrival numbers:
– FY 2002 total 1,538,649.
– FY 2001 passengers 1,862,395.
– FY 2002 through April 1,229,314.
The government's fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. Thomas said he expected some 500,000 passengers during the summer months and to end FY 2002 with approximately 1,750,000 passengers.
In the February issue of Caribbean Travel & Life, the territory was listed as the best all-around Caribbean destination, Thomas told the PFA board. And, he said, the magazine wrote that "St. John's miles of national parklands appeal to the nature lovers, St. Croix heritage draws history buffs and St. Thomas' shopping lures the masses."
The cruise lines "are requesting that we assign berthing or anchorage to them for the 2002-2003 and the 2003-2004 winter seasons and for the 2003 summer season," Thomas said. He said he would be meeting with line executives in July in Miami to finalize berthing assignments. The priorities, in order, he said, will be to utilize the WICO dock to capacity, then the Crown Bay dock, then the one available inner harbor anchorage and, finally, a series of outer harbor anchorages.
At an April 2 Port Authority board meeting, the board voted for VIPA to develop Crown Bay on its own, rather than partner with WICO, as the governor had specified, or with anyone else. At that meeting, Thomas requested that WICO's authority to assign berths to cruise ships be respected and continue. The board did not respond immediately to the request.
In other matters, Thomas reminded the PFA board that last year he had reported seeing "very little movement" in the proposed Carifest theme park which is to be developed on land leased from WICO adjacent to the dock area. "I am not certain I can be any more optimistic this year," he said of the project, which has been more than a decade in the making.
He also reported on negotiations with PRM Caribbean Corp., which purchased the old Yacht Haven Hotel and Marina and has leased adjacent property owned by WICO. The negotiations concluded in February, he said, and call for PRM to build a hotel or hotels, a convention center, a residential complex, offices, restaurants and/or bars, a supermarket, marina shoreli
ne walkways, a public park, retail operations and the customary uses associated with those activities.
However, Thomas said, "We're constantly besieged by questions about when the old structure will be torn down." He said PRM officials have told WICO that the demolition permit was issued in April and that bids for the work are under review. He added, "We anxiously await the commencement of this project."

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