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Danish Charter Perched to Expand Markets, Flights

April 4, 2005 – Torben Eirby, who founded The Danish West Indies – Travel Agency, said the Danish charter flights have brought $20 million dollars to the Virgin Islands in their first year of existence.
At a press conference room at Caravelle Hotel in Christiansted Monday morning, he also announced plans to dramatically increase that economic impact.
His plans have two prongs – one, make the flights weekly instead of twice a month, and two, expand the market from Denmark to the surrounding Scandinavian countries.
He said 5,000 Danes visited the islands in the first year of the charter, which began in April of last year. He expects 6,000 Danes to visit this year. And if his plans go well, over 8,000 people from Scandinavia will arrive in the Virgin Islands in 2006.
The charter flights, which had help from the V.I. government with $400,000 in promotion the first year and $300,000 the second year, have been marketed to the 5 million people living in Denmark. Eirby plans to start reaching out to 15 million other potential travelers living in Norway, Sweden, and northern Germany.
He said Norway and Denmark were one country until 1814, so Norway has a shared historical experience with the Virgin Islands. He said it was a Norwegian architect who laid out the streets of Christiansted.
Northern Germany was also once part of Denmark and Eirby said ties between it and the early rum industry on the Virgin Islands exist.
He called Sweden a brother country and said right now many fly from Oslo to Copenhagen to make their connections with the outside world.
Part of the plan would be flights on alternating weeks out of Billund, Denmark. All flights are now out of Copenhagen. Eirby said that airport location would make it more convenient for many Danes to make the nine-hour flight to the Virgin Islands and that airport would also attract many travelers from Germany and Sweden. He said because of the European Union there were very little concerns about border crossings now.
Eirby said there were skeptics asking last April, "Is this just another government program that is going to lose money?"
But a year later, according to Eirby, the government brought in room taxes and gross receipt taxes that were double the government investment.
Julie Renfro, president of the St. Croix Hotel and Restaurant Association, was at the press conference. She said, "The Danish tours made our summer season last year. We were worried after losing all the cruise ships. The Danish tours saved us."
Eirby said most Virgin Islanders have been positive about the effort. He said without Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards' help "they never would have happened." He also said Pamela Richards, commissioner of tourism, had contributed to the program's success. Tourism department staff is always on hand to greet the Danish arrivals, which has especially pleased the visitors, according to Eirby. He added that the feedback he is getting from the Danish visitors is "They not only love the islands, they love the friendly Virgin Islanders."
The Danish flights have also apparently generated a lot of publicity back in Denmark. Eirby said a Danish tour book sent a writer to the islands a couple months ago and expects to have a new tour book out dedicated to the Virgin Islands this fall. In a couple weeks Denmark's largest TV station is sending a crew to shoot some segments. He said his agency is sponsoring their tickets and local hoteliers are sponsoring their stays.
He said a recent poll taken by a major Danish newspaper found that out of 100 possible dream vacations, Danes placed the Virgin Islands second.
Eirby said that world events and the soft exchange rate for the dollar had many Scandinavians looking west when they were thinking about vacations.
The success of the Danish flight has also caused the expansion of his travel agency. When the Danish flights began three people worked in the agency. Now, with service offices on St. Croix and St. Thomas, 25 people are employed.
The charter suspends flights in August and September. Eirby said, "The Danes have heard it can get windy here then." He hopes when it starts back up in October it will be with weekly flights.
His calculations are since last April, 5,000 Danes have spent around $20 million on hotels, restaurants, excursions, shopping, taxies and inter-island transportation.
A new excursion has recently been initiated for the Danes. It is called "Best of the West" and takes the visitors to Frederiksted, Sprat Hall, Butler Bay and Estate Washington.
Eirby said, "We are at a stage when we know this is working and we can make plans for the future." He added that he hoped to be calling another press conference next April and talking about how successful this second phase was
Eirby, before he started the direct charter flights, worked as the islands tourism representative in Denmark.
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