Aug. 31, 2002 – The summer was a mixed bag for hotels, and the Labor Day weekend appears to be the same, with the smallest island that offers accommodations doing the best business. Here's what a survey of some of the territory's resorts, hotels and guest houses found.
As usual, St. John has been busy. "St. John is a great destination," Westin Resort general manager Graeme Davis said. That fact, coupled with the island's status as a U.S. territory and marketing efforts on the part of the chain's sales team, has helped keep rooms full, he said.
Davis reported 86 percent occupancy in August, 90 percent in July and 93 percent in June. He said weddings contributed a lot of the June business and that local rates starting at $129 per night have just about filled up the hotel for the Labor Day weekend.
Brian Young, general manager at Caneel Bay Resort, said the hotel had 70 percent occupancy in August and 80 percent in July. "We'll be 70 percent for this weekend," he said, adding that while the hotel didn't slash its rates, it did run some promotions that were available when the hotel had space, which helped to fill rooms.
"As a rule, people were looking for more value," Young said. And when it came to spending money at the hotel, he said, guests scaled back for example, buying T-shirts and caps at the resort gift shop instead of pricier items.
At Estate Lindholm, a 10-room inn overlooking Cruz Bay, owner Lauren Morrisette said the summer was busy from the Fourth of July all the way to August, "Then it dropped." She said she offers reduced rates for locals to stimulate business at the inn and on St. John. "Hopefully, they'll go out to dinner," she said. Estate Lindholm is half full for the Labor Day weekend, she said, and will be busy in September with weddings and honeymooners.
The picture isn't nearly as bright at some hotels on St. Croix.
"I have one customer, and it's a bummer for Labor Day," said Toby Chapin, owner of the Breakfast Club. The hotel, located on the fringe of Christiansted, has what might be the best rates anywhere in the territory a double runs $75. Chapin said his occupancy was around 20 percent for most of the summer. He said lack of promotion for St. Croix and expensive airline seats contributed to the problem.
Bob Siefert, general manager at the Divi Carina Bay Resort and Casino, said the summer saw an occupancy rate of about 45 percent down 15 to 20 percent from a year ago. "We've got a bad economy, jitters about flying and basically no flights," he said. He said about 40 of the hotel's 150 rooms are occupied for the Labor Day weekend, which he attributes to the fact that the territory is in the midst of hurricane season.
However, should a hurricane be headed this way, the Divi will benefit, he noted, because the hurricane hunters pilots and crews that fly into the eye of a storm to gather weather data make their base at his hotel.
Siefert fears that American Airlines' announced plan to cut back flights throughout its system could negatively impact the Virgin Islands. He said the airline has not announced any reduction in flights to the territory but added. "We do not want to live off of American Eagle and the bankrupt US Airways."
At the Frederiksted Hotel, owner Kelly Kuipers said last summer was better than this one, but such events as a Little League tournament and this weekend's reggae festival have helped to fill rooms.
The Buccaneer Hotel got a boost from people on island to hire airline screeners for the federal Transportation Security Administration, according to hotel spokeswoman Chris Goodier. She said these personnel are occupying 10 rooms for several weeks, have converted a suite into offices and are using conference rooms to administer tests. The hotel also has three group bookings for September.
Goodier said the summer overall was good, although "we had some tight days in the last week in August." On one day, only one room was left and someone snatched it up. However, she said, the Buccaneer is not up to its full complement of rooms, since some are undergoing renovations.
Miller Manor, a budget property in Charlotte Amalie, has had a hard time of it, between management problems and the cut-rate prices offered at more luxurious St. Thomas hotels and resorts. Owner Harry Wynns said the nearby Holiday Inn Windward Passage charges only about $20 more a night, and it has a pool, a waterfront location and a restaurant. Miller Manor has none of those.
Wynns also said the most recent guest house manager, who recently left, allowed the place to turn into a "flophouse." The owner said he's at work trying to get the place back on track but acknowledges it will be hard to compete with the Holiday Inn. Currently, six of the nine rooms occupied at Miller Manor have long-term residents something that helps to bring in money but doesn't enhance the ambience.
St. Thomas' two Best Western properties, Emerald Beach Resort and Carib Beach Resort, both had "difficult" summers, according to Joel Kling, general manager of both. Although June and July were good, he said, August was mediocre. And Labor Day isn't any better, with bookings down about 20 percent from last year. Kling was expecting his holiday weekend occupancy to be about 60 percent.
Kling said people are afraid to fly, worried about the economy, wondering whether the United States will invade Iraq, and faced with having to pay high airfares to get to the Virgin Islands all factors that tend to keep them home. These problems, coupled with slashing of rates by larger and more luxurious properties, all have contributed to his low occupancy rates, he said.
There was some upbeat news, however. Marriott Frenchman's Reef Beach Resort's general manager, John Peck, said the territory's largest hotel had an occupancy rate in the mid 70s during the summer. "The summer was fantastic over last year," he said. He was expecting occupancy for the Labor Day weekend to run just above 40 percent.
Peck gave credit to the resort's sales force for using good strategy to sell rooms. And he said a package put together by the Tourism Department with St. Thomas hotels also helped sell rooms. "It looks like everybody had a good summer," he said.
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