Oct. 16, 2003 In a gaily decorated Government House ballroom dozens of media representatives from other Caribbean islands, Canada and the United States tasted Virgin Islands cuisine Wednesday as Gov. Charles W. Turnbull welcomed them to the "warm people of our islands."
The luncheon was part of the 26th annual Caribbean Tourism Conference being held on St. Thomas this week, largely at Marriott's Frenchman's Reef resort.
Turnbull stressed the ties with all the Caribbean islands, French, Spanish or Dutch. However "The most important thing about the Virgin Islands is our people," he said.
Referring to the territory's motto, Turnbull said, "It's not only America's Caribbean; it's everybody's Caribbean."
He welcomed the travel writers with the admonition to enjoy "our beaches, our warm weather, but, most of all we want you to enjoy our people." Turnbull praised the press as having treated the V. I. "fairly" in the past. Reports from the Bahamas have been positive since it hosted the conference last year, and Turnbull and Richards hope to reap handsome rewards as well from the territory's exposure this year.
While the media folk were further wooed by a steel band combo, Tourism Commissioner Pam Richards, CTO first vice-chair, announced new travel packages the Tourism Department has for the winter season.
The "USVI Ice Breaker" promotion features a "reloadable" charge card with $60 already on it and a $100 "bounce back" for travel to St. Croix, and some USVI "winterized" apparel to remind visitors of their trip when they get back to cold country. She also touted another program which offers a fifth night free after a four-night stay, along with a $100 American Express travelers' check with each room.
And the Tourism Department's marketing efforts came in for praise from a California magazine.
Gloria Herbert, editor and associate publisher of "Black Meetings and Tourism," told the Source that the V. I. is doing a great job in reaching the African-American travel market. She said it had been a hard market to break into for several reasons.
"For one thing, " she said, "there was a misconception that had to be destroyed." Herbert said a lot of Caribbean advertising featured people of color only in serving positions, not as participants enjoying a vacation, themselves. It harkened back to the days of slavery, she said.
Herbert said the Virgin Islands was ahead of the pack in repositioning itself in the African-American market, "Commissioner Richards was very smart," Herbert said. "She is sensitive to the market." The African-American market is now the fastest growing segment nationally, she said.
The magazine has named Richards on its list of the most influential African-American managers in the hospitality industry for the past three years.
The national press was well represented with an impressive array of writers from prestigious magazines including Gourmet, New Yorker, Conde Naste Traveler, National Geographic, Architectural Digest and Bon Appetit. Writers from the elite magazines were treated to local specialities stew mutton, kingfish, jerk chicken, macaroni and cheese, peas and rice, and one distinctly non-Caribbean item, a tofu and vegetables on a skewer. If the food at the elegant luncheon was a benchmark, the V. I. should garner much good press as the writers ate lunch with obvious relish.
The ballroom at Government House was resplendent in chairs covered in red, white and blue banners, with bouquets of the same colors at each table.
The CTO conference gets under way officially at 8 a.m. Thursday at the University of the Virgin Islands Sports and Fitness Center. Assistant Tourism Commissioner Monique Sibilly Hodge said Wednesday that the event would start on time, which the department has ensured by staging a motorcade to the UVI center. The motorcade will pass along Veterans Drive which is sporting a "Festival of Flags" of the countries represented in the conference. The conference moves back to Marriott's Frenchman's Reef Resort for the afternoon session.
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