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Territory Is Top Caribbean Cruise Destination, Study Says

Though cruise ship tourism has declined over the last three years in the Caribbean, the U.S. Virgin Islands remains the top destination in the region, receiving an economic contribution of more than $384 million for the 2008-09 cruise season, the V.I. Department of Tourism announced this week.
And while there were fewer visitors coming down the gangways of cruise ships last year, each individual was spending a little more, according to Andrew Moody, a founder of Business Research and Economic Advisors (BREA) in Ekton, Pa.
Moody, who performed the study of region-wide cruise ship tourism, said the territory tallied the highest per-passenger spending rate – $193.22 per passenger – for the 2008-09 cruise season.
Moody’s findings were unveiled during the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association’s 16th Annual Cruise Conference and Trade Show, which was held this year from Oct. 26-29 on St. Lucia.
The 2009 Economic Impact Study examines the economic contribution of cruise tourism to the destination economies. The U.S. Virgin Islands led the region with a $384.4 million; followed by Cozumel, $255.3 million; the Bahamas, $246.1 million; St. Maarten, $230.3 million; Puerto Rico, $182.3 million; and the Cayman Islands, $174.4 million.
Though the number of people visiting the Caribbean on tour ships declined from 2006, the most recent year for which figures are available, the expenditures per person increased 1.7 percent, the study says, offsetting some of the lost revenue.
In a recent telephone interview, Moody said the study shows the region is well poised to take advantage of an economic rebound.
"What appears to be happening is that the cruise passengers that go ashore … are purchasing all kinds of goods," he said. "Those who do purchase a tour are probably spending more."
The study tracked spending of jewelry, food, watches, entertainment, taxi rides, clothing, cosmetics, perfume, entertainment, electronics and more.
According to the report, the territory’s $384 million in cruise tourism expenditures directly supported jobs for 3,589 V.I. residents, paying nearly $80 million in annual wages. Factor in the indirect contribution that results from the spending of that money at local businesses, and the study finds that V.I. tourism expenditures generated nearly 6,700 jobs and $144.6 million in wage income during the 2008-09 cruise year.
“It is refreshing to note that in spite of the difficult economic conditions, the U.S. Virgin Islands continue to be the premier destination in the Eastern Caribbean, and clearly the shopping mecca of the entire Caribbean,” said WICO President and CEO Edward Thomas. “St. Thomas, in particular, continues to benefit from ‘first-stop’ calls as most cruise ships stop in St. Thomas before sailing further to the eastern and southern Caribbean."
Commissioner of Tourism Beverly Nicholson-Doty agreed.
“Our performance in the cruise sector is due largely to the fact that St. Thomas remains a port of high disembarkment because of its shopping and entertainment opportunities,” Nicholson-Doty said. “The available tours, restaurants and attractions entice visitors to enjoy the destination and spend on souvenirs and other goods and services.”
Moody said the higher spending habits of this year’s visitors bode well for the islands as the economy improves. Cruise ship capacity will be higher as more ships bring more visitors, he said.
And factoring in the return of cruise ships to St. Croix can only be good news for the territory. In 2006, when the study’s baseline was conducted, cruise ships stopped only at St. Thomas. Ocean liners returned to St. Croix in late 2008, and the numbers have been growing steadily. This month Frederiksted Pier is ready to receive its first two-ship visit in some time.
A total of 29 destinations located across the Caribbean, Central America, South America and Mexico participated in the 2009 study. The previous study was conducted in 2006 for the 2005-06 cruise season.
The Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association is a not-for-profit trade organization composed of 15 member cruise lines operating more than 100 vessels in Floridian, Caribbean and Latin American waters.

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