Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp touted increased tourism revenues, additional cruise ships to the territory, and innovations to enhance tourism, including the start of water taxi services for cruise ship passengers on St. Thomas, during a news conference Tuesday at Government House in Christiansted.
Citing a “robust schedule” of cruise ship visits to St. Croix this winter season, Mapp said the big island will see 34 port calls in Frederiksted. This reflects a 97 percent increase to that island, he said. On St. Thomas, the West Indian Company dock will see 350 ships while the Crown Bay dock will see 150 ships.
Mapp also said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban development approved his request for $32 million in funds for dredging at the Gallows Bay channel, the Crown Bay Dock including the north side of the dock, and the Charlotte Amalie maintenance dredging. The dredging at Crown Bay will allow Quantum and Oasis class vessels to be able to dock. Backfill from Crown Bay will be used for the waterfront highway project, the governor said.
Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty said her collaboration with the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association continues to enhance the visitor experience in the Virgin Islands. There has been “constant positive progression,” as they work on major issues that pertain to the visitor experience in the territory, Doty said.
“How do we make sure that St. Croix is seen as its own destination? We need St Croix to be represented with our culture, history and food, these are things that passengers are looking for,” she said.
Doty suggested that enhancing the V.I. tourism product requires us to consider the entire region.
“We are not only in competition with other Caribbean destinations, we are in competition with the world. “One destination does not make an itinerary. Our neighbors in the region are important to the itinerary planning.”
FCCA President Michelle Paige lauded Mapp and Doty regarding their post hurricane response.
“You were the epitome of what a destination should do to rebuild. You could not have done things better,” she said.
Paige said revenues from cruise ship passengers spending has increased by almost 10 percent.
“That’s a tremendous increase, she said.
Carlos Torres Navarro, FCCA operations chairman and vice president of Carnival Cruise Corporation, said an agreement was reached with the V.I. government for preferential berthing. “We finally got it done” in this administration, Navarro said.
Water taxis will begin in November on St Thomas
“We’ve been asking for this [water taxies] for two decades,” Paige said. “If you can’t move people, people are going to get back on the ship. They can’t get to the excursions, they can’t get to the stores or the restaurants.”
Mapp said he was encouraged that members of the St. Thomas Taxi Association supported the project by submitting bids to provide water taxi services.
“It’s about meeting the demand of your customers,” Mapp said.
Doty said the water taxis will make stops at the WICO dock, east and west Main Street, the waterfront and Crown Bay. She said the test vessel used had a 100-passenger capacity.
Information on Tax Refunds
At the beginning of the press conference, Mapp digressed from tourism to assure residents that their back-owed tax refunds are being paid.
“Every other Friday we continue to pay tax refunds.”
Mapp said refunds that have been owed from 2010 through 2015 have been paid and “we are in the middle of paying 2016 refunds.” Mapp said.