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U.S. Virgin Islands advance plans to improve cruise sector

Bevan Springer | 6/22/2017, 9:54 a.m.
The U.S. Virgin Islands is advancing plans to improve its visitor experience for cruise ship passengers.

ST. THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands (June 22, 2017)—The U.S. Virgin Islands is advancing plans to improve its visitor experience for cruise ship passengers.

This progress comes out of the second meeting of the Ports of the Virgin Islands-Charlotte Amalie Task Force held earlier this month.

At the heart of the matter, reports U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Kenneth E. Mapp, is the need to reengineer the Virgin Islands product and elevate the guest experience of the destination. “We are competing in a changing, dynamic environment and are in need of a complete shake-up of our business models,” he said. “We need to develop not only what people want today, but also anticipate their future needs. The key is to respond to visitors even before they realize what they need. That’s what this task force is all about.”

Lloyd Bough Jr., commissioner of Property and Procurement, reported that the deadline for submission of proposals to establish a harbor transportation service in the Charlotte Amalie Harbor had been extended to June 23, 2017, because of the strong interest in the contract, and because of the high volume of inquiries and questions the department had handled, including site visits by prospective bidders.

Task force members agreed with the need for the RFP process to allow for multiple operators, possibly operating vessels of varying sizes, and that the contract period should be extended beyond three years in light of the capital investment required. The evaluation and selection process is now expected to be completed by the end of August, the contract executed by the end of October and service possibly implemented by the end of the year.

Commissioner of Public Works Gustav James updated members on the first phase of the $40 million Veterans Drive project, which will feature widened lanes on the coastal thoroughfare in downtown Charlotte Amalie, while discussions also focused on the importance of dredging the Charlotte Amalie Harbor to accommodate larger vessels and raising the $12 million investment funding for the project.

The task force proposed the establishment of a berthing committee to optimize the use of all five berths on St. Thomas. They also proposed the need for improving communication with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and congressional officials to secure additional officers for the territory’s seaports and airports. This initiative should improve the passenger experience as well as attract increased calls from vessels with significant numbers of foreign passengers.

The group also discussed a “Ports of the Virgin Islands” communications and advertising campaign to promote the competitive advantage of duty-free products “purchased in the U.S. Virgin Islands,” while confirming plans for a town hall meeting with the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association, cruise line executives and the Virgin Islands community next month.

The task force draws in representatives from retail stores, ground transportation operators, spirits distributors, restaurants, the Virgin Islands Port Authority, the West Indian Company, the Department of Tourism, the Department of Public Works and the office of the governor.

Members of the private sector reported they were heartened by the spirit of collaboration of the second gathering. The next meeting is scheduled for August.

A similar task force is being developed for the island of St. Croix and will launch in the fall.