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U.S. Virgin Island Tourism Officials Optimistic Despite 14.4% YTD Decline in Visitors;
Hotel Occupancy Rates Averaged 59.6% in April 2009

By Aldeth Lewin, The Virgin Islands Daily News, St. ThomasMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

August 5, 2009 - ST. THOMAS -- Visitor arrivals dropped by 11.9 percent in April -- compared to the previous year -- but Tourism officials say given the current economic climate it could have been much worse.

The V.I. Bureau of Economic Research released April's tourism indicators Tuesday, which showed steady declines both in revenues and the number of people traveling to the territory.

Tracking the total number of visitors who came to the Virgin Islands between January and April, the indicators showed a 14.4 percent decrease compared to the same period last year. For the month of April alone, visitations declined by 11.9 percent.

"The statistics for April are reflective of the overall times," Tourism spokeswoman Allegra Kean-Moorehead said.

She believes the April numbers, while discouraging, are not as bad as they might have been. She said the department's "Sizzlin' Sampler" promotional summer travel package began April 15 and may have contributed to sales in that month. More than 6,000 packages have been sold, Kean-Moorehead said.

"I think we have a lot to be thankful for, even with the declining numbers," Kean-Moorehead said.

For air arrivals, King Airport saw 54,747 air arrivals, a 3.1 percent decline over the previous April.

The only increase was in the number of people who flew to St. Croix. The report said St. Croix received 10,991 airline passengers in April, a 3.6 percent increase from the previous year.

Kean-Moorehead said the increase may be attributed to the growing popularity of the St. Croix food and wine festival which is held that month. She said there was also a national advertising partnership with American Airlines that was held this spring -- specifically promoting travel to St. Croix -- which may have boosted the number of visitors in that category.

Cruise ship calls on St. Thomas in April fell from 69 to 57 compared to 2008. The number of cruise passengers also dropped by 15.5 percent compared to last year.

Hotel occupancy rates averaged 59.6 percent in April, 9 percent less than the previous year. St. Croix occupancy fell from from 55 percent last year to 35.9 percent this year. Occupancy rates on St. Thomas and St. John in April dropped from 73 percent in 2008 to 67.7 percent in 2009.

"I don't think any of the numbers are surprising," USVI Hotel and Tourism Association President Lisa Hamilton said.

She said the fact that hotel occupancy is down 9 percent is not bad compared to the reports she has heard from hoteliers both in and out of the territory.

"Compared to some of our Caribbean neighbors, we're holding our own at this point," Hamilton said.

While occupancy is only down 9 percent, hotel room revenues are down 40 percent. Total room revenue for April was about $1.7 million.

The hotels are lowering their room rates in order to hang on to their occupancy levels, Hamilton said.

"This speaks to how now more than ever we have to retain the customers that we have and provide them with a positive experience because we don't have the marketing budgets," Hamilton said.

She said it costs more money to go out and look for a new customer than it does to convince a past customer to return.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 774-8772 ext. 311 or e-mail alewin@dailynews.vi.

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To see more of The Virgin Islands Daily News, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.virginislandsdailynews.com/.

Copyright (c) 2009, The Virgin Islands Daily News, St. Thomas

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