Premier and Minister of Tourism Dr Natalio Wheatley has indicated that the BVI’s total number of visitor arrivals for 2022 will have exceeded half-million people by the end of the year.
Dr Wheatley gave that indication during his budget speech yesterday, November 29. He described the local tourism sector as resilient and said it is now in high demand.
The Premier commended the Virgin Islands’ tourism product for its prowess after it weathered dwindling visitor arrivals because of the global pandemic, then rebounded appreciably when the territory began to lift its COVID-19 restriction measures.
Rise and fall
According to the Premier, tourist arrivals fell from 894,991 visitors in 2019 to 305,356 visitors in 2020 and dropped further to a measly 133,715 visitors in 2021.
He noted, however, that the reopening of the Road Harbour jetty in December 2020 saw arrivals progressively increasing, with substantial increases coming particularly in November and December 2021 that fell just shy of 96,000 visitors.
“With vaccination programmes in most countries, the loosening of travel restrictions, the easing of quarantine periods, the reduction in, and subsequent elimination of BVI gateway fees, and pent-up appetites for travel; the tourism sector during 2022 commenced it’s upward climb, albeit [slower] than its normal performance levels,” the Premier stated.
According to Dr Wheatley, by the end of August 2022, total visitors shot up by an astronomical 1,054 per cent, moving from 28,224 visitors in August 2021 to 325,753 visitors.
Cruisers and day-trippers moved from 2,641 by the end of August 2021 to 204,330 for the same period in 2022. This marks an incredible growth of 7,637 per cent.
In the meantime, he said overnighters — which stood at 27,604 by August 2021 — reached 123,445 for the same period in 2022, a commendable 347 per cent increase.
Tourism wins push visitor arrivals
Among the successes that drove the BVI’s tourism numbers towards pre-pandemic levels was the re-emergence of annual events like the Virgin Gorda Easter Festival and the BVI Spring Regatta and Sailing Festival. Premier Wheatley also credited the One BVI Poker Run, Christmas in July, BVI Summer Sizzle, and the emancipation festivities for helping to enhance the level of visitors up to August 2022.
An incredibly successful tenth annual Lobster Fest, which just concluded in Anegada, also helped by attracting a host of visitors from jurisdictions such as St Maarten, the United States Virgin Islands and mainland USA among others, Dr Wheatley shared.
Additionally, he said the reopening of the Virgin Gorda Airport facilitated an increase in both overnighters and day-trippers.
“The completion of the Bitter End Yacht Club, Nanny Cay Hotel, and some guest houses and villas in 2020 continue to supplement the room stock in the Virgin Islands,” Dr Wheatly noted.
He also shared that, based on feedback from the accommodation and charter yacht sectors, the outlook for overnight visitors for the remainder of 2022 looked optimistic, with early bookings showing signs of recovery to around 2019 levels of tourism activity.
Total visitors expected to reach 541K by year’s end
With cruise restrictions being lifted and new cruise lines like Ritz-Carlton cruises set to make calls to the BVI soon, the Premier said the 2022–2023 cruise season is expected to be heading back to almost normal levels.
“Based on performance up to August and an optimistic outlook across visitor arrival categories for the balance of the year, the 2022 projection for overnight visitors was revised to 191,019 visitors while that of cruisers and day-trippers being raised to 350,883 visitors,” Dr Wheatley shared.
Total visitors for 2022 is, therefore, expected to reach 541,901 visitors – a 305 per cent growth above 2021 levels.
Boost to high-end tourism
The planned reopening of Peter Island in 2023, the continued development at Oil Nut Bay Resort, and the anticipated gains from a comprehensive review and revision of the fees and structures within the marine industry are also expected to provide a boost to high-end tourism.
“It is anticipated that these efforts, in addition to those of the BVI Tourist Board, along with the level of early bookings for the 2022-2023 season, will realise total arrivals around 703,000, of which 59 per cent or 411,000 visitors are expected to be cruise passengers and day-trippers and the remaining 41 per cent, which is about 292,000, would be overnight visitors,” Premier Wheatley added.
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