On Nov. 15, V.I. Department of Tourism’s Commissioner Joseph Boschulte took the cover of the November/December 2022 issue of Black Meetings & Tourism magazine along with a two-page feature describing his leadership navigating a successful and profitable path through the rocky straits of COVID-19.
After many successful leadership positions in business, government and higher education, Commissioner Boschulte joined the USVI in 2018 when the territory was making a comeback from two devastating Category 5 Hurricanes, Irma and Maria, that wreaked havoc with 185-mile winds. He barely had time to get his feet wet when the pandemic hit in early 2020.
The devasting impact of COVID globally required quick thinking and pivoting. Boschulte noted in the article, “We recognized that what had been the driver in the past was not going to be any longer. We went 18 months without one cruise ship.”
This was saying a lot as the territory’s tourism income was largely dependent on cruising. With three to four ships visiting per day, the USVI is one of the largest cruising destinations in the Caribbean. Before the pandemic, cruising injected over $300 million into the local economy and accounted for about 70% of the tourism business.
The article explains how Boschulte quickly initiated a new strategy in response to the pandemic and shifted the focus to improving airlift and overnight stays. He said, “Our comeback during the pandemic was successful due to our shift from cruise ship travel to hotel and airline partnerships. Unlike other islands in the Caribbean, the airports in the USVI never closed.”
In addition, they implemented an online travel screening portal and worked closely with all their local partners, including restaurants, hotels, excursion companies and other tourism-related businesses. The article points out that Boschulte is constantly on the road advocating for his destination, networking and selling USVI to potential visitors. He travels far and wide to convince tourists to travel thousands of miles to visit the territory.
Thus far, his new strategy appears to be working. With at least two rebuilt resorts about to open in the USVI, and tourism numbers up 44%. The two rebuilds are opening on St. Thomas, the first in 30 years for the island. They are The Westin Beach Resort and Spa at Frenchman’s Reef and The Seaborn at Frenchman’s Reef, an Autograph Collection, following more than a $425 million dollar investment in the property.
The USVI is gearing up for a very successful 2023. Already the three-island territory has reported the highest hotel occupancy rate in the Caribbean with 72.5% from June 2021 to May 2022 and revenues to match. The strategy has also been enhanced by the new branding campaign, ‘Naturally in Rhythm,’ that supports the hotel recovery and is designed to inspire visitors to fall naturally in rhythm with the diverse culture, natural wonders and beautiful hotels and resorts of St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John.