The U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism appeared in front of the Senate for the annual budget testimony hearing touting strong tourism results for Fiscal Year 2022.
During the Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Hearing held on July 13, Commissioner of Tourism Joseph Boschulte provided the Senate with the highlights of the industry’s achievements along with a recommended budget for Fiscal Year 2023 that will allow the Department to continue to effectively grow the tourism business while promoting the USVI as the marquee destination in the Caribbean.
He discussed a broad overview of strategies to increase revenues and employment in key tourism sectors, including airlift, cruises and accommodations, while also expanding marine and international markets.
During the pandemic, the tourism industry was “a bright spot in the U.S. Virgin Islands economy,” Boschulte said. “Tourism accounts for 60 percent of our GDP (and) industry indicators suggest that tourism growth will continue in 2022 and 2023, buoyed by a revival of cruise travel.”
In a strong start to 2022, Boschulte reported, first-quarter visitor arrivals surged 153 percent compared to the same period in 2021. This year, 452,764 visitors arrived between January to March 2022. That follows up on a successful 2021 fiscal year during which there were increases of 96.7 percent in air visitor arrivals and 27.7 percent in hotel occupancy from the previous year. Boschulte attributed this to the Department of Tourism’s quick pivot in strategy after the cruise industry shut down in 2020.
At the time, the department amped up its aggressive campaign to increase both airlift and overnight stays. As a result, the USVI became the fastest-growing location for total airlift capacity in the Americas between 2019 and 2021. According to the Transportation Security Administration, airports in St. Croix and St. Thomas received 14 percent more passengers in February 2022 than in February 2019.
Airline success translated to the accommodations sector. Boschulte reported that STR lodging data showed that when compared to all Caribbean destinations for which data is available, the USVI had the highest hotel occupancy rate of 72.5 percent from June 2021 to May 2022. The territory also led the region with the highest average daily rate (ADR) of $637 and revenue per available room (RevPAR) of $461.61 during the same period.
While cruising was largely dormant for the calendar year 2021, the Department of Tourism continued to work with cruise industry executives to develop strategies to welcome the business back during 2022. “The territory is projected to see a sharp increase in calls in FY23 of over 450 calls and almost 1.4 million passengers, up from slightly under 250 (calls) and approximately 480 thousand passengers in FY22,” Boschulte reported.
Other key Fiscal Year 2022 developments included the growth in marine and sports tourism. Sports tourism efforts included international sailing events, college basketball tournaments, tennis tournaments, and participation in the Sports Illustrated 2022 swimsuit edition. The latter was a significant coup for USVI Tourism, increasing brand exposure through 21 billion media impressions across global media outlets.
As for the marine industry, its annual direct and indirect contribution to the USVI economy is forecast to approach $100 million in the coming year. During 2021, The Moorings, one of the world’s premier yacht charter companies, established operations on St. Thomas during the season.
These are among the key strategies the Department of Tourism developed during FY 2022 and will continue into FY 2023:
Increase airlift from existing locations and adding new gateways domestically and internationally
Increase overnight stays through FY 2023
Grow room occupancy tax revenue via hotels and sharing economy accommodations
Launch initiatives to win back and grow the share of the cruise business, including solidifying partnerships with the cruise lines and with the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA).
Adding 70 percent more passengers coming to Crown Bay on St. Thomas and tripling the numbers for St. Croix in 2023
Strengthen partnerships with marine stakeholders
Expand and integrate marine experiences with land-based experiences