BVI-USVI Leaders Talk Tourism, Internet, Boating … and Politics

Gov. Albert Bryan Jr and BVI Premier Natalio Wheatley met Thursday at Government House in St. Thomas. (Photo: Screenshot of live broadcast)

Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. and BVI Premier Natalio Wheatley met Thursday at Government House on St. Thomas to discuss shared interests and potential cooperation providing high-speed internet, year-round tourism, sport fishing, and charter boating.

Bryan also spoke frankly about the upcoming election in remarks that appeared to have been unintentionally broadcast.

It was the first Inter Virgin Islands Council of the COVID era, and both leaders said they were eager to press forward on common ground. Digitizing records and building strong internet connections was vital, Bryan said.

Wheatley said both territories’ reliance on tourism from off-island — and inter-island tourism — meant sea and airports were key areas of overlapping concern.

“We were able to discuss matters of mutual benefit and mutual interest to make sure that our residents and visitors have very clear, accommodating transportation between our respective homes,” Wheatley said. “We want to make tangible progress not just in word but in deed.”

Bryan stressed communication is key to a more productive relationship that maximized the islands’ shared tourism potential.

“People all over the world are interested in food fests and the music festivals and all the other things that go on in the British Virgin Islands that make it great,” Bryan said. “Here in the U.S. Virgin Islands, we too want to expand our tourism season not just from November to May, but yearlong. That’s something we can work on together.”

The Inter Virgin Islands Council met in St. Thomas. (Photo: Screenshot of live broadcast)

Neither leader spoke in detail about the discussions but said an update to the 2004 memorandum of understanding between the territories would be ready before the 50th BVI-USVI Friendship Day on Oct. 22.

At the beginning of the remarks that were broadcast on Government House’s social media page, Bryan appeared to be caught unaware that the audio portion had started.

The off-the-cuff hot-mic remarks included the governor discussing his administration’s two-year plan, which he said would be fully in place if not for a “landslide” of disasters — not the least of which was COVID. He also discussed the election, saying Kurt Vialet and Janelle Sarauw were the only competition to him and Lt. Gov. Tregenza Roach.

“I don’t know why it should be a hard election, really. If we lose it ain’t for not trying,” Bryan said. “We gonna win.”

He said other gubernatorial candidates, Ronald Pickard and Stephen Frett, were not political threats.

Someone in the background asked how close the election was with Vialet.

“Over here, they ain’t even in the arena. In St. Croix I think it closer,” Bryan said.

Roach was then heard briefly explaining the different needs and mindsets of Virgin Islands voters before the broadcast abruptly stopped.

The Inter Virgin Islands Council is the formal side of the BVI-USVI relationship, bringing key policymakers from both territories together to explore ways to enhance the relations between the islands.

The Inter Virgin Islands Council was established May 29, 2004, when then Gov. Charles Turnbull and Chief Minister D. Orlando Smith signed a joint memorandum of understanding. The council’s first meeting convened on St. Croix in April 2005.