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HomeNewsLocal governmentDepartment of Tourism Continues Work on Marketing Flights and Carnival in 2023

Department of Tourism Continues Work on Marketing Flights and Carnival in 2023

Division of Festivals Director Ian Turnbull, Commissioner Joseph Boschulte, and Assistant Commissioner Alani Henneman Todman from the Dept. of Tourism testify before the Senate Committee on Economic Development and Agriculture. (Photo courtesy of the VI Legislature)

Tourism Commissioner Joseph Boschulte testified before the Senate Committee on Economic Development and Agriculture on Wednesday, sharing updates on the upcoming 2023 St. Thomas Carnival, a new partnership with Ubersoca Cruise, and updates relating to airlifts and sports tourism in the territory.

Though the Tourism department shared positive feedback on events and activities over recent years, senators inquired and commented to testifiers, operations that still need attention. One such aspect being air travel. Inter-island travel within the USVI and the Caribbean was noted during the hearing as needing improvement, with senators asking Tourism Commissioner Joseph Boschulte how can more routes be added to accommodate travelers, more so from the island of St. Croix.  Boschulte spoke about the continued efforts of the Tourism Department to have overnight visitors, using air travel as the means to promote extended stays.

“Our department is one hundred percent committed toward fulfilling our mandate on increasing overnight travelers to our territory. It is our highest priority,” said Boschulte.

Boschulte said that 2,200 hotel rooms are available for guests on St. Croix and that the department continues to market St. Croix aggressively for flights, but a change in fee structure in collaboration with the VI Port Authority would provide a more favorable outcome.

“So right now through the Port Authority, we offer one year. My belief is, we need to offer more than one year if we really want to push to get flights to come into St. Croix.”

Boschulte further provided the example of JetBlue leaving the big island because of the lack of demand.

“The demand was not there,” said Boschulte. “You have to have a level of demand and business throughout the year to keep the lift.”

Committee chair Sen. Javan James also asked the commissioner if the Tourism Dept. played a part in the new Cape Air direct flight from St. Thomas to Nevis. Boschulte replied that it did not but they are in constant communication with the airline. The commissioner further noted that Cape Air previously had a similar flight to Anguilla, but because of a lack of passengers during the off-season, the flight was removed. With the St. Thomas-Nevis flight, however, in collaboration with the Nevisian government, they will advertise more to locals to keep flights full, especially during the off-season.

The commissioner also made mention of a Dominican Republic airline, [Sky High], that will soon make landfall in the Virgin Islands.

“As many of us can witness, the fares are very high but the flights are coming in full. So demand is very high for us even with the high prices. Of course, what would level those prices off and bring them down is the opportunity to bring more competition into the market,” said Boschulte.

According to the Commissioner, flight prices in the territory are “20-25% above the rest of the Caribbean.”

Additionally, the Tourism Department noted that they are working in conjunction with UberSoca Cruise. The cruise ship will dock at WICO on April 13, 2023, coinciding with Carnival in St. Thomas. The theme of this year’s festivities is “Illuminating Our Culture for the World to See, St. Thomas Carnival 2023.”

“Tourism and UberSoca have scheduled an exciting day packed with a pub crawl, beach runs, boating activities, a J’ouvert, restaurant and shopping tours, and a concert at WICO, produced by UberSoca, for over 4,000 guests,” said Boschulte.

Sen. Diane Capehart spoke about the need for the department to better promote the offerings of St. Croix. She spoke about an experience she had when she overheard a cruise ship employee talking about the island.

Sen. Diane Capehart questions representatives from the Department of Tourism during Wednesday’s hearing. (Photo courtesy of the VI Legislature)

“St. Croix doesn’t have anything, all they have is Kentucky Fry Chicken, [and] Kmart,” Capehart said, quoting the employee.

“We need to create a wow factor,” said Capehart. “We need to create the impression that when these people come off the ship they will be saying wow,” she added, highlighting that good focuses for tourists would be the beaches and shopping experiences.

She also encouraged the Tourism Department to focus not only on sports tourism, but also on agritourism, ecotourism, and medical tourism.

Additionally, Sen. Alma Francis-Heyliger spoke about keeping areas clean that are heavily populated with tourists, and provided an example of the area behind Windward Passage hotel being neglected.

“On that street there [behind the hotel] is a ditch that right now is so stink, it is so dirty, it is so filthy, that it causes two dual things,” said Francis-Heyliger, noting the issues of flooding and the negative impression it leaves to hotel guests.

Commissioner Boschulte said that they will follow up with the hotel.

Senators Javan James Sr., Marvin Blyden, Angel Bolques Jr., Diane Capehart, Alma Francis-Heyliger, Franklin Johnson, and Dwayne DeGraff were present.

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