The recent veto of the Tourism Board legislation by, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull has dealt a severe blow to the tourism industry of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
To say that the VI Hotel & Tourism Association and the two Chambers of Commerce are disappointed with the governor's veto of Bill No. 25-0126 would be an understatement. After the governor publicly stated in his 2003 State of the Territory Address that he supported the concept of a semi-autonomous tourism board, and the industry offered significant concessions to satisfy the governor's concerns about the first Tourism Authority bill, we are now left baffled and dismayed.
The legislation that Governor Turnbull has now vetoed is actually a vastly different version from the first Tourism Authority bill. This board is a far cry from the "all-powerful agency" that the governor felt would be created by the original authority bill.
The current bill would create a board that only oversees the marketing, advertising and promotional efforts of the territory. This board would have a majority of government representation, with seven public sector members versus six from the private sector. All appointments to the Tourism Board require the governor's approval. The Tourism commissioner also has a position on this board.
The Tourism Board bill would allocate "most of the funding" to the Tourism Board as the governor stated, but that is only because the vast majority of the money would be spent on promotion of the Virgin Islands tourism product and destination advertising.
The Tourism Board bill does include a "25 percent increase, from 8 percent to 10 percent, in the hotel room occupancy tax that was previously opposed by hoteliers and the private sector," as the governor stated. We agreed to support the increase at this time if it would help the establishment of a true and meaningful public/private sector partnership to promote tourism.
The Tourism Board bill that the governor vetoed in no way would have "dismantled the Tourism Department," as the governor stated. In fact, this bill would allow the department to focus on intra-governmental coordination of the tourism product that the U.S.V.I.. offers to the world. The Tourism Department could then direct its energies to:
– Work with the various government agencies to keep our streets safe and clean.
– Advocate tourism education in our schools.
– Promote technical training in hospitality and culinary services.
– Encourage the ports to do everything in their power to attract additional flights or cruise ships.
– Try to elevate our service providers to become the friendliest and most efficient in the world.
– Act as a representative between the newly created Tourism Board and Government House.
Advertising, marketing and promotional decisions would then be made by the Tourism Board, whose members would be selected for their years of experience in these areas.
The private sector has a great deal invested in the tourism industry of the U.S. Virgin Islands in addition to its collective experience and should have a place at the table where decisions are made that determine the future of these islands as a premier Caribbean destination.
The current structure has failed to maximize marketing potential because it has failed to combine the resources of the private and public sectors in a way that makes the most of every dollar spent. Creating a Tourism Board would provide the support and guidance necessary to effectively market our destination.
Our competitors in the region and elsewhere in the world have recognized the importance of a meaningful public/private partnership.
Senators, we urge you to override this veto and set the stage for tourism success. The time for change is now; the time for a Tourism Board is now.
U.S. Virgin Islands Hotel & Tourism Association
St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce
St. Croix Hotel & Tourism Association
St. Croix Chamber of Commerce
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