NEW YORK (July 7, 2011)-The U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism is taking intra-Caribbean and Diasporan tourism markets seriously.

The government has embraced the importance of overseas-based Virgin Islanders, Caribbean nationals and the intra-regional Caribbean market to the development of its tourism product and experience.

During the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s Caribbean Week in New York held last month, Kay Milliner-Kitchens, director of sales for the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism, presented the natural beauty, history and allure of the islands to Caribbean-Americans during a special CTO meeting that focused on the importance of the Caribbean Diaspora.

“We in the U.S. Virgin Islands have been blessed by the goodwill and support we have received throughout the years by our nationals and our Caribbean neighbors,” said Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty, who indicated that her department has embarked on a strategic campaign to encourage Caribbean nationals to promote and visit the islands.

“We have numerous ‘ambassadors’ throughout the Caribbean, North America and Europe who are eager to contribute to the development of our islands. We look forward to attracting their intellectual, marketing and financial capital as we develop a movement to unite the Caribbean community at home and abroad,” she said.

Meanwhile, the regional Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) has lamented the absence of tourism from the agenda of the recent CARICOM heads of government meeting in St. Kitts.

CHTA President Josef Forstmayr said the top private sector trade body was very disappointed that tourism was not an agenda item, a reversal of the decision taken three years ago to make the region’s bread-and-butter industry a regular agenda item.

Forstmayr urged CARICOM heads to fix the regional aviation crisis and facilitate ease of travel for Caribbean nationals throughout the region. “We have heard that several heads of government at this meeting called for a reduction in travel restrictions. This is crucial if we are to return to the 1.5 million intra-Caribbean visitors that helped fill vacant rooms at our Caribbean hotels just a few years ago.” Intra-Caribbean visitors were down to just 566,000 last year, according to statistics from the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

“We need to remind our own people that tourism business means jobs, not only in the hotels but for the taxis, the restaurants and the farmers and fishermen that fill the restaurants with food. It also means work for the seamstresses, craftspeople, shopkeepers and manufacturers, including all their workers, plus the deliverymen and even the trash collectors,” he pointed out.