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Charlotte Amalie
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Consultant: Port Authority Has Made It Through Worst of Travel Slowdown

The governing board of the Virgin Islands Port Authority was greeted with two pieces of good news at its monthly meeting Wednesday at its St. Thomas Headquarters.
As the inaugural St. Thomas visit of the world’s largest cruise ship approaches, Bob Arthur, a senior airport consultant for the firm of RS and H, told the board that economically, “things could be worse.”
The firm was engaged by the authority to analyze its economic position.
On December 8, VIPA will host the world’s largest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, which will make its inaugural call at the Austin “Babe” Monsanto Marine Terminal at Crown Bay. The mammoth vessel is expected to arrive around 7 a.m. and stay until 6 p.m., according to a VIPA official.
The ship will stick out some 30 to 50 feet beyond the end the pier, according to West Indian Company’s Mark Sabino, who acts as the ship’s agent for Royal Caribbean.
The terminal will need to beef-up its facilities; changing where the gangway will interface with the pier and installing more substantial bollards to accommodate the 16-deck Genesis-class ship.
Initially slated to call at the longer WICO dock, the ship will instead call at the largely empty terminal for the next year, until modifications are made to the channel approach to the WICO dock.
While things are looking rosy in comparison with other tourist destinations, the authority is seeing some small improvement in its finances, with operating expenses down $664,357 for the month of August from the previous month.
Total operating revenue for August was $2.6 million, falling off from $3.7 million in July.
Explaining that the authority appears to have reached the lowest point in tourism-related economics, with a 5.4 percent decrease in air traffic, Arthur said that when compared to other destinations, the Virgin Islands had lost fewer tourists than many of its neighbors.
Nationally, air traffic is off by some eight percent, but other Caribbean Islands have far more dismal numbers, with aviation traffic for Antigua off by some 14 percent, Arthur said.
“We’re at the bottom,” Arthur said. “We should feel really lucky that we still have people coming in. I don’t know why we are doing better than the other (tourist destinations) guys.
Using enplanements –the number of people getting on the plane to leave the Virgin Islands – as a measure, Arthur said total enplaned passengers for FY 2009 numbered 805,457, down around 50,000 passengers from FY 2008’s 851,681.
However, the Virgin Islands marine tourism traffic is down by 21 percent. But again, things could be worse. Jamaica, for comparison, has suffered a whopping 28 percent decrease in tourist traffic.
Arthur said Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas was reporting bookings way ahead of plan.
Authority Chairman Cassan Pancham gave a nod to the Deptartment of Tourism’s work in minimizing tourism drop off.
“The Virgin Island Tourism Office’s promotions were successful during the summer,” Pancham said. “We’re doing better than industry on cruise ship arrivals.”
Studying the success and the reasons for them was suggested by board member Gordon A. Finch.
“At the last meeting we commissioned a study as to why we are not doing as badly as other ports,” Finch said. “So we could find out why we are in better shape than any of the others.”
Analyzing airline schedules for the coming season, Arthur says he finds “a whole lot to be positive about.”
U.S. Airways is doing a seasonal flight to Boston, American Airlines has assigned St. Croix a second flight a day and American Eagle has come back to seven flights a day, according to Arthur.
While seats aren’t yet full, the bottom line is that the airlines have put the capacity back into the marketplace.
“The bad news is that personnel costs are up by some $800,000,” Arthur said, cautioning the board to control its personnel costs.
Arthur said he assumes traffic will not get any worse.
“We will bump along the bottom,” Arthur said, urging the authority to remain focused on reducing costs and assume no dramatic events.
The board is taking action to reduce costs by offering a voluntary separation incentive plan.
“We are moving along with that plan,” Judith James, the authority’s director of administration and finance said. According to James, employees of the Government Employees Retirement System sat down one on one with employees interested in the plan.
James expects employees will soon be able to get an idea what their payments will be.
Board member Gordon A. Finch cautioned that time was of the essence in informing employees so they could make a thoughtful decision on accepting the package.
“These employees have served their time, some more than 30 years,” Finch said. “They deserve respect. The most important thing to them is ‘how much am I going to get.’”
In other actions the board approved
• An interim gravel parking lot at Enighed Pond on St. John to reduce the parking burden in downtown St. John. An earth and sand berm will be moved to accommodate the lot at the Theovald Moorehead Marine Facility. Funding comes from a bond bill through the Department of Public Works, which will design a permanent parking structure in Cruz Bay.
• A change order to the contract with Burns and McDonnell Engineering Co. to complete the design of a marine terminal building at Enighed Pond. Funding for the effort is via GARVEE Bonds.
• A $73,010 contract to VI Paving to repave and restripe the VI Water and Power Authority parking lot in Sub Base. Funding comes from VIPA’s FY 2010 Budget.
• A lease for the Transportation Security Administration occupy the former Avis Rent-A-Car building at St. Croix’s Henry E. Rohlsen Airport.
Board members attending included Dept. of Labor Commissioner Albert Bryan Jr, Finch, V.I. Attorney General Vincent Frazer, Pancham, Robert O’Connor, Hector Peguero, Dept. of Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls and Yvonne Thraen.

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