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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, May 21, 2024


Editor's note: Tourism Commissioner-designate Rafael "Raffie" Jackson issued the following statement through the government's public relations agency, Martin Public Relations:
There has been a great deal of news coverage about my statements regarding two specific tourism issues contained in the five-year economic recovery plan developed by Gov. Turnbull's task force. I want to make sure that my intentions are clear, and from what I've seen and heard in the local media, it could be confusing to the public.
Two issues in particular have caused quite a bit of debate and confusion. Those issues are the proposed "privatization" of Tourism, and the future of the department's off-shore offices. Both of these subjects deserve further explanation and clarification because of their importance and because of the misperceptions that currently exist in the Virgin Islands community about my plans.
First, with respect to the privatization issue, I must clarify what has been reported in some outlets. I am not opposed to a tourism advisory council by any means. There is a big difference between a privately owned tourism authority operating with the government's tax dollars and an advisory council or board of directors which would help create policies, plans and other initiatives with and for the Department of Tourism. Let me point out that none of our peers/competitors have a private sector-owned tourism authority, not even the often-cited Puerto Rico Tourism Company. That organization is still owned by the government of Puerto Rico.
What I am against, for the record, is a tourism authority that is 100 percent owned by the private sector and operated by taxpayer dollars. That does not make sense to me. However, I am not against a Tourism advisory council or Tourism board of directors which would work with the department for the good of the territory's tourism economy.
Now, the situation with the Department's offshore offices continues to be a great source of debate and examination, and that is good. Direct sales efforts to travel agents is a key component to a successful tourism industry. We need to increase the offshore offices' visibility and impact on travel agents and the traveling public. There are definite, clear areas that need improvement, and those improvements are necessary. However, I don't believe that getting rid of the offices at this time is the best way to increase USVI awareness in the states and abroad.
Again, for the record, I am not opposed to the future closings of some of these offices; in fact, I am looking to close at least two of them within the next year or two. What I am opposed to is closing these sales offices at a time when we need to increase our visibility and we don't even have the official Tourism web site available yet to help offset the loss of the offices' work. Now is not the time to pull back and shut down our offices, but to improve them. Yes, some of our current level of spending on rent is too high, and we will remedy that at the earliest possible opportunity. However, again, closing them at this time is not prudent.
I'd also like to point out that these offshore offices are not isolated folly on behalf of the Virgin Islands government. Most of our Caribbean neighbors also have offshore offices in the cities where we are located. In fact, several of our Caribbean neighbors — including the Bahamas, Barbados, the Cayman Islands and Jamaica — are even located in the same specific areas (buildings or blocks) as our New York City and Los Angeles offices. There are valid business reasons why these areas are popular locations for Caribbean tourism boards.
I am not pointing this out to defend excessive spending on rents, but to explain that there was some reasoning behind the original decision to locate in those areas. Perhaps the time has come, however, to re-examine those locations and find nearby offices that cost us less money.
I often hear members of the community making the plea for increased visibility and advertising. Tourism must promote itself in a three-pronged attack: through advertising, public relations and — sometimes most importantly — direct sales. It is through the offshore offices that most of our direct sales take place. Yes, we want to improve the performance of these offices, but closing them is not in my short-term agenda.
I hope this statement clarifies my position on these two issues to all concerned Virgin Islanders who are rightfully interested in the future of tourism in our islands. I encourage that interest and positive input, and thank them for it.
Rafael Jackson
St. Thomas

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