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Virgin Islands Likely to Experience Weakest Year for Tourism Since 2000; 
Data Shows First Half of 2012 Occupany Rates Off About 4%

By Lou Mattei, The Virgin Islands Daily News, St. ThomasMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Oct. 09, 2012--ST. THOMAS -- The Virgin Islands had fewer visitors and more empty hotel rooms during the first six months of 2012 than in 2011, according to data released last week by the V.I. Bureau of Economic Research.

The bureau tracks airline and cruise ship passenger arrivals, as well as hotel occupancy rates, on a monthly basis. The figures for April, May and June of this year were released last week after delays caused by conflicting data and untimely reporting by some hotels, according to a memo accompanying the figures.

The total number of visitors to the territory fell slightly between 2011 and 2012, with 1,564,706 visitors in the first six months of 2011 and 1,547,883 visitors in the first six months of 2012 -- a drop of 16,823 visitors, or about 1 percent.

The average visitor to the Virgin Islands -- including cruise ship and airline passengers -- spent about $396 in 2010, the most recent year for which the Bureau of Economic Research provides data. Based on that figure, the drop in visitors in the first half of 2012 cost the territory an estimated $6.6 million in tourist spending.

Hotel occupancy was off more sharply than the number of visitors, with an average occupancy rate of 57.37 percent in the first six months of 2011 compared with 53.45 percent in 2012, a decrease of about 4 percent.

If the rate for 2012 remains at that level for the rest of the year, it will be the weakest year on record since at least 2000, according to bureau data. The lowest annual hotel occupancy rate for the territory since 2000 was in 2009, when it was 54.8 percent.

Lisa Hamilton, president of the V.I. Hotel and Tourism Association, said the association attributes the dip in occupancy rates to an unusually warm winter in the northeastern United States. Hamilton said the association canvassed other Caribbean tourism agencies and most other islands reported less hotel demand between January and April 2012 because of the warm weather.

"Let's hope for a cold northeast winter in 2013," Hamilton said.

However, the data show May, too, was a particularly slow month compared with 2011, with the total number of visitors to the territory down by 14 percent and the total hotel occupancy rate down 8 percent year-over-year.

Weak numbers in May and June helped reverse an upward trend in tourism reported by the Bureau of Economic Research in May 2012. In that report, the bureau said the number of visitors during the first six months of fiscal year 2012 -- which covers October 2011 through March 2012 -- was up 3.6 percent over the same period in 2011.

Hamilton pointed out that behind the overall decrease in May and June are two contrasting trends. In those two months, the number of air visitor arrivals grew by about 20 percent year-over-year, while the number of cruise ship visitors dropped by 25 percent.

Hamilton said the V.I. Hotel and Tourism Association is engaged in a marketing initiative to drive traffic to its partners' websites, as well as a $400,000-a-year newspaper advertising campaign similarly focused on increasing web traffic.

She said the V.I. Tourism Department, despite a small budget, also has been helpful in offering promotions during slow season. She said the V.I. government needs to allocate additional money from the General Fund to the department's marketing budget, which currently comes only from a 10 percent room tax paid by hotel customers.

Calls Monday to V.I. Tourism Department spokeswoman Allegra Kean-Moorehead were not returned.

- Contact reporter Lou Mattei at 714-9124 or email lmattei@dailynews.vi.The following figures are based on data released last week by the V.I. Bureau of Economic Research. Total number of visitors to the Virgin Islands (airplanes and cruise ships combined)

St. Thomas-St. John St. Croix Total Virgin Islands

2011 2012 Change 2011 2012 Change 2011 2012 Change

January 288,435 284,311 â??1.43% 43,691 37,071 â??15.15% 332,126 321,382 â??3.23%

February 262,175 286,166 9.15% 36,316 36,534 0.60% 298,491 322,700 8.11%

March 302,457 288,205 â??4.71% 34,235 34,363 0.37% 336,692 322,568 â??4.19%

April 225,989 248,857 10.12% 30,943 30,995 0.17% 256,932 279,852 8.92%

May 163,421 140,312 â??14.14% 15,355 12,899 â??15.99% 178,776 153,211 â??14.30%

June 143,181 134,562 â??6.02% 18,508 13,608 â??26.48% 161,689 148,170 â??8.36%

Year-to-date 1,385,658 1,382,413 -0.23% 179,048 165,470 -7.58% 1,564,706 1,547,883 -1.08%

Hotel Occupancy Rates (in percentages)

St. Thomas-St. John St. Croix Total USVI

2011 2012 Change 2011 2012 Change 2011 2012 Change

January 60.3 61.4 1.1 49.3 54.2 4.9 57.6 59.6 2

February 65.1 66.2 1.1 59.5 59.1 -0.4 63.7 64.4 0.7

March 71.4 57.2 -14.2 50.6 55.1 4.5 66.3 56.7 -9.6

April 61.9 57.3 -4.6 41.2 41.7 0.5 56.9 53.6 -3.3

May 56 46 -10 36.6 34.8 -1.8 51 43.3 -7.7

June 51.6 45.7 -5.9 40.4 34.7 -5.7 48.7 43.1 -5.6

Year-to-date 61.05 55.63 -5.42 46.27 46.6 0.33 57.37 53.45 -3.92

___

(c)2012 The Virgin Islands Daily News (St. Thomas, VIR)

Visit The Virgin Islands Daily News (St. Thomas, VIR) at www.virginislandsdailynews.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services



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