|By Aldeth Lewin, The Virgin Islands Daily
News, St. ThomasMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 19, 2010 - --Although the Virgin Islands tourism industry has been struggling through the recession, the latest numbers released by the V.I. Bureau of Economic Research this week show things have been improving.
Data collected by the bureau shows growth in the numbers of people traveling to the territory during January and February compared to the same period last year.
In January, visitor arrivals were up by 10 percent compared to January 2009. In February arrivals rose by 6.8 percent compared to last year.
Total air arrivals grew by 9.3 percent -- an increase of about 6,000 people -- in January compared to the same period last year. On St. Thomas, the rise was almost 5 percent. On St. Croix however, air traffic grew by more than 30 percent.
Allegra Kean-Moorehead, V.I. Tourism Department spokeswoman, said the numbers reflect the steady growth since September in air travel to St. Croix.
"The upward trend is continuing," she said.
St. Croix's cruise ship visitors also have been growing steadily. In January 2009, about 5,400 people visited St. Croix by cruise ship. In 2010, that number grew to almost 22,000.
"St. Croix tourism industry continues to rebound as evident from the growth in visitor arrivals observed over the past several months," the Bureau of Economic Research report said.
The territory's hotel occupancy rate for January averaged about 67 percent, compared to 59 percent last January. The bureau's report said that the boost in occupancy can be attributed to strong marketing campaigns by Tourism and the annual St. Croix Festival activities.
While occupancy may have risen year over year, hotel revenues were stagnant -- remaining at about $1.6 million. The flatlined revenues indicate that in order to boost occupancy, hotels are slashing room rates.
In February, the numbers of visitors fell slightly, but still were much stronger than February 2009. Last year, 243,957 travelers came to the territory in February. This year, more than 260,000 people visited.
Air arrivals increased in both districts, as did the number of cruise ship passengers. Ten fewer ships called, but the number of passengers on St. Thomas remained about the same as last year and grew significantly on St. Croix -- by 13,758 people.
Hotel occupancy remained strong in February at almost 80 percent compared to 67 percent last February. The Bureau of Economic Research report said the annual Agricultural Fair on St. Croix helped to boost occupancy.
Unlike January, February's hotel revenues grew compared to 2009 and the average length of stay increased as well. Revenues were up by 32 percent according to the bureau's statistics, from $1.1 million in February 2009 to $1.7 million in February 2010.
Kean-Moorehead said the growth seen in early 2010 is evidence of marketing efforts made during the economic downturn.
"Our ongoing effort to promote the Virgin Islands in the past year, it's really starting to pay off now that consumers are resuming their travel," she said.
She said the Tourism Department's strategy was to continue promotion and advertising even during the worst months of the economic downturn when no one was spending money to travel.
That way, when the economy begins to improve, and people are thinking about vacations once again, they will chose the V.I. as a destination, Kean-Moorehead said.
"They have us at the top of their mind," she said. "They think of the USVI because we've been out there the whole time."
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