Data collection is pivotal for government operations and securing federal funding, but during Tuesday’s Government Operations and Consumer Protection hearing V.I. Bureau of Economic Research Director Allison DeGazon said hotels are withholding tourism data.
The bureau’s primary responsibility is to publish economic reports based on timely and accurate data collections that can be used to promote the economic development of the U.S. Virgin Islands. The tourism sector is one of the reigning economic contributors in the territory, but DeGazon said data timeliness is a challenge.
“At times, there are delays in the receipt of data from lodging establishments and other government agencies,” DeGazon said. “As it pertains to hotel data, the bureau faces the problem of either late reporting or no reporting at all.”
Though the problem is not new, DeGazon said it has “been exacerbated by both the hurricanes in 2017 and the COVID-19 pandemic.”
To combat the lack of reporting from hotels, DeGazon said the bureau was forced to make cold calls to each private entity and has submitted legislation that, if signed into law, would require both hotels and online lodging marketplaces to submit reports to the bureau for publication. She added the bureau has also begun conversations with the University of Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research to assimilate ways to generate tourism data.
It’s not only major hotels that fail to report their data but a problem that stems from online marketplaces like Airbnb. Without the information, the data collected by the bureau is skewed, and any conclusions drawn from the data would prove inaccurate.
“Hotels are showing a really good uptick. However, we know this is not the true reflection of hotel data because we have the introduction of Airbnb into the territory, and right now, the bureau is working on gathering Airbnb data and generating reports so we can start reporting those numbers,” the bureau’s Senior Project Analyst Bernesha Liburd said.
The bureau’s Senior Policy Advisor Biko McMillan said the “newer private lodging establishments” aren’t always sharing data with the bureau and to obtain the information has more nuances than simply cold calling a hotel. “The struggle right now is to figure out the framework for those businesses, between them and the Virgin Islands, just how we can make sure we get the data that we need so that we can support them and support our own policies,” McMillian said.
Though no solution has presented itself, DeGazon told the committee when she became director of the bureau, she submitted multiple pieces of legislation pertaining to the issue and “would love for those to become a priority” as the bureau stands ready and willing to implement those changes.
Separately, the committee reviewed two pieces of legislation; however, no action was taken due to a lack of quorum at the roll call. These acts were Bill No. 34-0146, which mandates the erection of a monument in St. Croix honoring the Fireburn Queens by appropriating $250,000 from the Community Facilities Trust Account to the Virgin Islands Council of the Arts, and Bill No. 34-0150 honoring former Governor John Percy deJongh Jr. by naming the new walkway adjacent to the Veterans Drive Highway the “John de Jongh, Jr. Promenade.”
Representatives from the West Indian Company Limited were invited to the hearing to update the committee but failed to show.
Sens. Carla Joseph, Novelle Francis Jr., Alma Francis Heyliger, and Javan James Sr. were present for the hearing. Sens. Marvin Blyden, Franklin Johnson, and Milton Potter were absent. Additional non-committee members were also present.