Speakers at the 19th annual Destination Symposium discussed improving the tourist experience while highlighting the uniqueness of the territory. During the St. Thomas meeting on Tuesday, speakers shared information about progress, obstacles and plans.
More than 100 government officials, hotel employees and other tourism stakeholders gathered to learn new information, to network and to find out what’s working – and what isn’t – in the tourism industry.
“It’s important to stay engaged with our travelers,” said Deputy Commissioner of Tourism Chantal Figueroa. “An unscripted vacation offers you the opportunity to craft your vacation the way you want. We encourage people to experience all we have to offer.”
“People come to the Caribbean for sun and sand and sea,” Figueroa said, “but they want richer experiences also.” The territory can offer such an experience, she added.
The Department of Tourism hopes that by allowing visitors to design their vacations around their needs and interests, it will encourage them to visit the Virgin Islands.
And once tourists are here, residents must make their experience unique to the territory to keep them coming back, Figueroa said.
As an example, Figueroa noted the success of the locally popular Mocko Jumbie as a marketing tool. Now that the Mocko Jumbie is “recognized as significant” to the Virgin Islands, she said the department plans to expand on the mascot’s role by incorporating what makes it culturally unique to the territory into advertisements.
“We’re coming up with innovative strategies to bring more awareness to the USVI,” said Department of Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty.
In addition to attracting tourists to the territory, Nicholson-Doty said to make sure they are return guests, visitors must have a positive experience.
Referring to a survey from tourists who visited in the last 12 months, noting that 50 percent of visitors research online before booking a vacation, the commissioner said Tourism has been very successful in using social media.
According to Nicholson-Doty, 45 percent of those guests said they “got what they expected in the U.S. Virgin Islands.”
“Tourism can do all the greatest marketing in the world, but if their visit doesn’t meet expectations, they won’t come back,” she said.
In other efforts to make tourists’ time in the territory more pleasant, Commissioner of Public Works Darryl Smalls discussed the work his department is undertaking to improve traffic and “beautify” the area from Windward Passage to Havensight on St. Thomas.
“We affect not only our home, but our destination,” Smalls said, noting that Public Works is sprucing up downtown, aiming to return major tourist areas back to their unique historical roots.
“Let’s engage people on all three islands. Stakeholders, farmers, taxi operators, hotels,” said Nicholson-Doty. “Think how we can we make our tourism product better.”
The symposium will continue Wednesday on St. John and will move to St. Croix on Thursday.