Cruise lines are anxious to resume visits to the U.S. Virgin Islands, Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp told members of the business community at a Tuesday meeting on St. Thomas.
The governor said the cruise ships would like to return to St. Thomas and St. Croix as soon as Oct. 15, while adding that he believes late-October is a more realistic target. A formal announcement from the cruise lines and the U.S. Virgin Islands Government is expected next week.
“This isn’t easy,” the Mapp said. “The key is to manage our emotions and figure out how we can make this an opportunity for growth.”
More than 150 representatives from the private sector met with Gov. Mapp, Commissioner of Tourism Beverly Nicholson-Doty and other officials at the GERS Conference Room on St. Thomas.
Mapp told those assembled he was eager to hear how businesses have been managing in the aftermath of two back-to-back Category 5 hurricanes and to learn more about how the government can assist those in the private sector to get Virgin Islanders back to work.
While many had concerns about power restoration, the diesel supply and the removal of debris, optimism prevailed. Most stated they were pleased with the government’s response to the significant challenges created because of the storms. Many merchants recalled the experience of Hurricane Marilyn in 1995 and said they understand the realities of a difficult recovery process.
Several businesses that serve cruise ship passengers are prepared to welcome visitors. Pash Daswani, president of the India Association, stated that association members who own Charlotte Amalie businesses are fully operational. “Main Street, Crown Bay and Havensight are ready to open,” he said.
Nicholson-Doty said the cruise lines have requested a status report on beaches in the U.S.V.I. and other attractions, and that representatives would soon visit to assess sites in the territory so they can start scheduling cruise calls. “They don’t expect perfection, but they do expect honesty,” she said.
Some restaurants, shops and beaches must be fully accessible for ships to return, and the territory must be able to assure safety, she explained. The West Indian Company Limited (WICO), which manages St. Thomas’ main cruise pier, was largely undamaged by the storm, according to WICO CEO Clifford Graham. “We did lose some security fencing and lighting, but we are working diligently on repairs and to pull any debris out of the water,” he said.
The governor said his priorities for tourism include reopening Magens Bay, working with the federal government to reopen the Virgin Islands National Park on St. John and providing power to the islands’ business districts. While many of the major hotels expect to be closed while damages are assessed and repairs are made, both the government and business owners remain optimistic about the future.
“I was very pleased and encouraged by the large turnout today and the very positive response of the business community here,” Mapp said. “We are going to continue to work together to rebuild a better Virgin Islands.”