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Charlotte Amalie
Friday, May 17, 2024


Hotels locally are having a surprisingly good summer season even though the "summer sale" on air fares by the major carrier serving the territory has excluded the Virgin Islands.
However, an industry leader says the strong occupancy stems largely from discounted room rates that are only a holding pattern for the properties.
Across the mainland, American Airlines is advertising a summer sale on fares from there to the Caribbean and back with savings of up to 40 percent.
Virgin Islanders need not rush to encourage kith and kin to come visit, however – at least not on that basis. St. Thomas and St. Croix are not among the destinations for which the discounts apply.
The special fares – which must be purchased by June 30 with travel by Sept. 30 – are good from any point in the mainland United States to Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands (Beef Island), Dominica, the Dominican Republic (Santo Domingo), Guadeloupe (Pointe-a-Pitre), St. Kitts and St. Maarten.
Sample round-trip rates for Monday through Thursday travel (for weekends, add $20 round trip):
Miami to St. Maarten – $344
New York (JFK) to Dominica – $388
New York (JFK) to Anguilla – $404
Boston to Tortola – $437
Dallas/Fort Worth to Santiago – $453
Chicago to St. Kitts – $540
Los Angeles to St. Kitts – $635
San Francisco to Tortola – $623
Richard Doumeng, president of the St. Thomas-St. John Hotel and Tourism Association, speculated that the airline's discount "really just means that their load factors are probably lower for those destinations than they are here."
Minette Velez, in the American Airlines corporate communications office in San Juan, offered this explanation: "Basically the reason is competition. There are other airlines that have established special fares to these destinations that you see there."
And that, she added, is not the case in the Virgin Islands.
But she confirmed Doumeng's view as well: "Right now the U.S. Virgin Islands is doing very good in terms of passenger movement." She noted that American did include the territory in a fare sale last February "and had excluded other destinations, as well."
For U.S. mainland travelers, Velez added, "This is the high season," and the New York, Boston, Chicago and San Juan markets are strong.
More important to the potential traveler, however, "There are very good fares right now" to the Virgin Islands, if one knows where to look, she said. A good place to start is connecting through San Juan.
American has a rock-bottom fare of $250 from New York to San Juan and back "available right now," she said, and the round-trip American Eagle connection to St. Thomas or St. Croix can be as low as $99. In fact, not only American but also Trans World Airways and United Airlines have the New York-San Juan $250 fare. It requires a three-day advance purchase, a minimum three-night stay and first-leg travel by Sept. 4.
Doumeng confirmed that tourist traffic coming into the territory is strong this summer. His Bolongo Bay Beach Club is having the best occupancy rate for the month of June since before Hurricane Hugo, he said.
At the monthly meeting Wednesday night of the St. Thomas-St. John Hotel and Tourism Association, executives of many other local hotels also spoke of very good June/July occupancies.
However, Doumeng said, this is not so much because of affordable air fares as because the hotels offer deeply discounted rates in the summer and early fall. Most hotel guests come on air-land packages, he said, and "what makes the package appealing is how low we have come in our price – we are bearing the brunt of the perceived value."
He added of the hotel industry locally, "No one can live on the rates that we are getting this summer. All we are trying to do is cover our payroll, create cash flow and pay the WAPA bill."
A lot of airline prices in effect now are higher than they have ever been, with recent increases pegged to rising fuel costs. Doumeng is traveling to Cancun, Mexico, this weekend for the annual Caribbean Hotel Industry Conference (CHIC). He said the best fare he found with American was around $1,600 – but an Internet search eventually led to a $469 ticket from Panama-based Copa Airlines, which has service between San Juan and Cancun.
Doumeng said he tries to keep a positive attitude. "I've gone from being a guy who wonders how come things are so bad," he said, to one who wonders "how come they aren't worse."

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