Senate President Vargrave Richards came out of a meeting with the Tourism Department and the St. Thomas-St. John Hotel and Tourism Association this week saying the governor needs to free up money for advertising the territory before it's too late.
"We urgently need to launch an immediate and intensive advertising campaign that will let the world know that despite Hurricane Lenny, the territory is alive and well and ready to receive vacationers in the ususal and customary manner," Richards said in a release from his office.
V.I. hotels have experienced a marked decrease in arrivals and an increase in cancellations of confirmed hotel bookings for the winter season, Richards said.
Without additional advertising, the season will continue to decline, he said.
The 8 percent hotel room tax is mandated to go to the tourism revolving fund, which is used to pay for advertising. However, it is unknown how much money, if any, is in the revolving fund because money has been diverted for other purposes, including payroll.
In a November press conference held to discuss depoliticizing the Tourism Department, neither Hotel Association President Richard Doumeng nor John deJongh Jr., president of the St. Thomas-St.John Chamber of Commerce, could say if there is money in the fund to pay for advertising.
Richards said he has urged Gov. Charles W. Turnbull to recognize the "negative consequences" of not immediately releasing funds for advertising.
Other pressing issues also face the territory on the tourism and advertising front. The governor fired acting Tourism Commissioner Michael Bornn in October. Monique Sibilly-Hodge is now acting commissioner for the second time but has made it clear she does not want the position permanently. The governor has not named anyone to replace Bornn.
Also, Bornn was on the verge of naming an advertising agency to represent the territory when he was fired. Since then the governor has put the brakes on that project as well.
As of Dec. 1, the territory has had four people in the position of Tourism commissioner in the last year and remains without an advertising agency.
Martin Public Relations, the territory's P.R. firm, remains on the job sending press releases and weekly updates to tourism professionals and travel writers. Martin PR recently published an annual travel planner and continues to bring journalists to the territory.