July 22, 2004 – Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards told the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday that the hospitality industry has seen "steady" growth and a 12.6 percent rise in the number of visitors to the territory this year.
"Air arrivals were up by almost 10 percent over last year's figures, and cruise arrivals were up by 13.6 percent," Richards said, adding that the Tourism Department is looking forward to continued growth for fiscal year 2005.
And the cruise ship Opera, a new vessel of MSC Italian Cruises, will be calling at St. Croix seven times in the coming season, starting in December, Richards said.
Richards told the committee that the department is succeeding in improving its market share performance, which it has been struggling with.
"Not only has fiscal year 2004 developed into one of our best years ever, but we also established a solid foundation that should enable us to deliver sustained, strong performance into the future and continue to achieve our long-stated goal to be the destination of choice in the Caribbean," Richards said.
The Tourism Department requested the $3.2 million proposed by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull for FY 2005. The money would be used for personnel costs. The department also will receive $2.18 million from the Rum Promotion Fund and money from the Tourism Advertising Revolving Fund, which is derived from the territory's 8 percent hotel room tax. So far this fiscal year, Tourism has received almost $12 million in room tax revenues, Richards said.
Film Festival to Promote Film Production
Meantime, the department is seeking to promote the territory as a primary location for film production, Richards told the senators.
"We are establishing the USVI International Film Festival to build a viable film community and position the Virgin Islands as a prime location to produce film through the provision of inspirational workshops and special movie screenings, as well as cultural celebrations," she said.
Currently, the Tourism Department is hosting scouts to show off the territory as a potential site for the filming of two sequels to the hit movie "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," Edward LaBorde, film promotion director for the department, said.
LaBorde said he is working with the scouts to try to get them to film the entire sequels in the territory instead of just portions of the movies. He said this would ensure that all the money budgeted for their production would be spent in the Virgin Islands.
Summer Travel Promotions
The department also is showcasing the territory by offering sales promotions, Richards said. Its Summer Super Saver program, begin in 2002, has garnered more than 1,095 bookings to St. Thomas/St. John and 598 bookings to St. Croix, she said.
"Our well-documented achievements over recent years have provided us with a strong foundation on which to reach for higher aspirations," Richards said. "Our task is clear — to move forward."
Finance Committee members attending the hearing were the chair, Sen. Adlah :Foncie" Donastorg; and Sens. Roosevelt David and Shawn-Michael Malone. Not present were Sens. Louis Hill, Norman Jn Baptiste, Luther Renee and Ronald Russell.
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