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COMMENTARY: Cruise visitors not big spenders; high-end tourism better

Dickson Igwe

By Dickson Igwe, Contributor

In the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and the floods of August 2017, strategic economic planning for the Virgin Islands is no longer an option.

Strategic, medium, and long-term economic planning is the single route to development and prosperity for the Virgin Islands.

Strategic economic planning will link immediate disaster recovery efforts with a long-term vision for the territory. The plan will present citizens with a narrative of short, medium, and long-term economic development: a powerful document that is transparent and accountable.

A strategic economic plan will become a platform for great governance today and tomorrow.

Now, this old boy sat with a fellow old boy from the same alma mater in the UK at Pussers bar in Road Town, one fine evening in Virgin Islands paradise.

Both men, after a cold drink, ambled to a taste of India a few yards away, for some exquisite Asian cuisine.

It was a beautiful night, with a full moon that illuminated the sky, throwing a glowing and wonderful blue light over the islands. Road Town – which has greatly improved since the September tragedies – enjoyed a picture-perfect dusk. This was the very meaning of utopia: surreal.

Pussers was unusually empty, apart from two or three customers. This writers friend, a local hotelier whose business was destroyed by Irma, put it down to the post-disaster recession.

“My associates in the hotel business tell me business is very slow right now. I do not see a light at the end of the tunnel presently,” he stated.

High-end tourism for BVI

He asserted that: “High-end tourism is the way ahead. Guests who overnight and spend any length of time in the territory are the type of visitor we should be focusing on. Cruise ship passengers are not big spenders. They have all they need on the cruise ship. The one thing the British Virgin Islands have to offer is beautiful geography. Virgin Gorda has got it right, and so has Jost Van Dyke. Tortola is going in the wrong direction.”

He added: “Overnight visitors to the Virgin Islands are the critical spoke in the tourism wheel. These guests are the travellers who spend the cash that drives the rest of the economy. That is why they are termed high-end, Dickson.”

OK. This older boy was getting it.

He went on: “They recline and sleep on board chartered yachts, occupy rooms at small hotels and villas, lounge at various resorts that sit on the coasts and shorelines, and spend a lot of time ambling about the various villages of the archipelago. They sail, swim, hike, run, cycle, eat at seaside restaurants, and enjoy the beautiful idyll that is the Virgin Islands.”

Tourists not interested in boring Road Town buildings

Then he made a point that was very revealing to this village-square tinker:  “The geography of the Virgin Islands is unique, and specially created for discerning and adventurous types. Virgin Islands tourism especially, attracts the high-end visitor. These are guests who are interested in sustainability, and experiencing life in a pristine ecosystem.”

‘”Visitors to the Virgin Islands want to fully appreciate a wonderful sunset, a magical blue moon, seas fully illuminated by a starry night, the gentle lapping of waves on to a white sand beach, the sounds of palm fronds, and the slap and snap of tree branches, as the sea breeze races through mangrove, bush, thicket, and foliage, sitting on the hills, in valleys, and the coastal plain. They want to simply ‘chill’, walk along beach, and eat a sumptuous dinner of Anegada lobster to a lively fungi band.”

“These tourists are not interested in the mundane buildings of Road Town, and the unnecessary traffic and congestion caused by a senseless love affair with the motor vehicle,” he sang.

“They would rather ride a bicycle, or take a long walk along the coastal roads that surround the islands, smelling the salt from the sea, and listening to the waves while observing the awesome views of surrounding islets and islands.”

Clean up the island

Yours truly listened intently to the businessman.

He sang on: “The important thing right now is to clean up the island. High-end visitors spend exponentially more cash on hotels, restaurants, taxis, and car rentals than cruise passengers. The high-end visitor who spends up to a fortnight in the territory keeps the waiter in a job, the hotels in business, and taxis and car rentals busy. He charters yachts and ensures the boat yards and marinas are fruitfully occupied. He ambles into supermarkets, and various businesses the cruise ship passengers never visit.”

He stated that the internet was a critical avenue for the tourism industry. And from his forays into a trip advisor, he feared it was only a matter of time before the Virgin Islands was labelled mainly as a cruise destination, which would deter the more discerning and high-end traveller from visiting.

This traveller thought him a bit of a ‘snob’. But, the man clearly knew what he was talking about.

Facilitate low-spending travellers too

OK. A strategic five to 20-year strategic economic plan that ensures tourism remains a high quality, high-value product that caters to the higher end of the market must also facilitate lower spending travellers.

The plan should ensure the following: Make safe, secure, green, clean, pristine, and wholesome, part of the core narrative of a 10 to 20-year Virgin Islands economic plan. Then a strategic plan must focus on high-end tourism.

It will further ensure optimal connections to hub airports in the region such as St Thomas, St Martin, Puerto Rico, Antigua. With a local airline, it will enable and empower citizens to become bread and breakfast hosts through the Air B&B model of ensuring high quality, fully air-conditioned accommodations in private homes that will bring hundreds of extra rooms into the hospitality market.

It should ensure late night ferries from Charlotte Amalie, and place a Customs and Immigration reception desk, and office, at Cyril E King with swift links to ferry services to West End and Road Town.

The preceding should be part of the future vision of a tourism El Dorado embedded in a five to 20-year strategic economic plan.

Copyright 2018 BVI News, Media Expressions Limited. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed.

15 Comments

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  1. Brains says:

    Well, sir, talk about stating the obvious.

  2. vg resident says:

    Right on. You have finally understood what the travelers on TTOL have said for years. The cruise passenger is a nothing burger. They add little to the pockets of the average worker in the BVI. They do add a lot of congestion at the beaches and roads, but spend almost nothing.
    The overnight traveler goes to see the islands,meet the locals, use the beaches, eat and spend money at many establishments on the islands. This is especially true on Virgin Gorda. They avoid the cruise passengers like the plague.

  3. SMH says:

    These people just sit around talking s*&t without any data to back up their claims.

  4. Crazy says:

    We just love to hear ourselves talk and see ourselves in the news. High-end tourism means heavy foreign investments, proper hotels/resorts, proper staffing, proper training, all of the things that make so many people uncomfortable. These things don’t happen by talking shit, it happens with real action and less ignorance. Just ask St Kitts.

    • TurtleDove says:

      @ Crazy

      I hear you but I thought he gave a diversified view of tourism including high end down to B&B and AirB&B…There is high end here already…some of those boats a 20 to 30 thousand and up per week. Its going to take a lot of work but what I got from the post is a call for diversification in the tourism industry.

  5. TurtleDove says:

    Good stuff….Put a copy of this in every politician hand.

    I would also like to add that a person with a smaller boat 5,10,15 passengers can try and put a plan together and have maybe a 6:30 or so run to St Thomas and an 8:30 or 9 back to Tortola. If this is not in place when I retire you could be I will be looking at this. Bed & breakfast and Air B&B in Tortola and St Thomas can work together for a more enjoyable experience.

    We need to talk to those politicians to cool it on making it so expensive to come and go from the BVI. This is certainly a concern I have as I am thinking about this…..

  6. Diplomat says:

    No doubt stay over visitors contribute more to the economy than day visitors. They on average spend more than day visitors on a visit. I would estimate that day visitors spend on average $50-$100 per day; stay over visitors, $300-400. Moreover, stay over visitors contribute more to the economy, ie, direct, indirect and induced employment……etc. Nonetheless, there should be a balance focus both.

    Moreover, to boost, improve and sustain the stay over visitor experience, more effective and urgent investment on infrastructure, ie, transportation (ferry service…etc), roads, water, sewage, drainage, health facilities, training and education, electricity, environmental resources protection and preservation….etc. Additionally, investment is also needed on tourism facilities, ie, hotel and other accommodations, existing and new attractions, ie, beaches, national parks, museums, monuments……..etc.

  7. Sunnyvi says:

    He is 100% correct. I knew personally a HNW family who visited Tortola ever holiday season for 10 years. Big $$$$ spent on island, renting villa, hiring cars, employing people, shopping, eating out etc. etc. Few years ago they moved their vacation to St Barts they said BVI spoiled for them by cruise traffic. Have cruise ships in but moderate them, charge them more and keep these islands with their USP …natural beauty with no gimmicks. Will pay off in long term.

  8. See says:

    Agree 100% but anyone with a brain has been saying this for years . Bringing in more cruise passengers will only chase away the bigger spending guests . Again , anyone with a brain is aware of this . Just ask the villa , hotel , and charter boat visitors . Better learn quick . The economy is more than a few bucks to govt and cab drivers .

  9. True! says:

    Just look at the impact the yachting sector is having…..God bless their contribution because without it the BVI would have been in a very bad way!!!! This is why they and overnight guests should be the priority and not have their experiences negatively affected by the cruise ships.

  10. Goose is cooked says:

    The goose that lays the golden eggs for the BVI has been financially abused for years. Government bends over for the cruise ship people but does NOTHING for the long rime ,overnight visitors.

    Another tip: The longtime, big $$$ spending visitors DON”T WANT AN AIRPORT that accommodates direct mainland flights. The difficulty in getting here is worthwhile, as it keeps the less desirable, overly demanding, trailer park dwellers, who nickel dime everything, away. BVI has a second chance, don’t screw it up. That cruise passenger head charge is like crack for the politicians.

    • Lol says:

      Actually you are very wrong. As someone that works in the tourism sector many of the overnight and yacht charter guests have switched destinations due to the difficulties getting to Tortola and want an airlink. We are not talking jumbo jets but medium size aircraft that can get to the Us East coast and then onward connections. In its day American Eagle had 14 flights to San Juan. An A320 or B737 or similar 3 times daily is what is needed.

      • Quiet Storm says:

        Why did AE cut back on the number of flights? Demand. Well, they are not even operating in the region any more. Why are no other airlines jumping into the mix? Demand. Airlift supply is a function of demand.

  11. Sam the man says:

    Perhaps if Road Town wasn’t such a dump of a place, dirty, poor roads/footpaths, squalid looking buildings, ghuts overflowing with rubbish and a dreadful planning policy that has created a gridlock at peak times with traffic then cruise ship passengers would enjoy the experience more and spend more. Most I have spoken to found their visit to Tortola very disappointing – which is such a shame as the BVI is in my opinion wonderful overall, first impressions aren’t good though….

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