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TURNBULL DINNER REMARKS LEAVE BITTER TASTE

April 24, 2001 – Local hospitality sector executives were still reeling Tuesday from criticism leveled by the territory's top official at a social gathering last weekend attended by some of the key — and critical — players in the Virgin Islands tourism industry.
In a speech before off-island and local tourism professionals Saturday night, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull said at one point, "We do not seek confrontation, but cooperation."
That, however, was not the impression received by much of the audience seated in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel's grand ballroom for the privately sponsored Governor's Dinner at the St. Thomas-St. John Hotel and Tourism Association's 8th annual Destination Symposium.
The statement came after Turnbull earlier in the speech blistered the private sector: "There is nothing to gain by engaging in counterproductive actions and statements designed to undermine or postpone the progress we all seek and should all be working toward." He continued that he was "disappointed that four of our tourism partners have declined to have their executive directors serve on my newly formed Tourism Advisory Committee."
"It caught everybody completely off guard," hotel association president Richard Doumeng said later. "There are many opinions on the way to a common goal. The governor is free to say what he wants. I have no concern with what he said, but I wish he had picked a different forum – a hotel association meeting, the Chamber of Commerce, or the Rotary Club."
But Turnbull chose to make the remarks before a gathering of people representing businesses that sent more than $100 million in tourism business to the territory last year.
Doumeng said the symposium participants comprised "the biggest group of people who send business here." Among those 48 people, he added wryly, were "some first timers, who are more sensitive than those who have been coming here longer."
Local hotel and tourism officials who attended Saturday night's dinner have since expressed mild to severe outrage at the governor's comments, most of them wondering what provoked him to use the venue of the Governor's Dinner, a fund raiser for the hotel association's Alton Adams Scholarship Fund. The scholarships assist Virgin Islands young people pursuing studies toward hospitality industry careers. The dinner generated more than $10,000, Doumeng said, much of it contributed by the off-island guests.
The controversy stems from the governor's veto earlier this year of legislation creating a public/private sector Tourism Authority to replace the government's Tourism Department. The local business community leadership strongly supports the idea of the quasi-independent authority, which is endorsed in the governor's own five-year economic recovery plan.
Turnbull countered by creating an advisory council, which business representatives have rejected, saying such advisory bodies in the Virgin Islands over the years have never proven effective. Defending his veto, the governor said he had "major concerns with the way the authority would have been structured."
The rift between the administration and the private sector widened last week when the hotel association turned down Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards' request that the four sitting members of the new advisory board — all representing the government — be allowed to attend a part of the symposium without paying the registration fee. Richards wanted the four to hear her presentation and those by the territory's advertising and public relations agencies.
The hotel association did "sponsor" — that is, cover the conference costs for — Richards; Monique Sibilly-Hodge, assistant Tourism commissioner; Henry W. DeLagarde, the Tourism Department's New York-based general manager for North America; Amy Atkinson, account supervisor with Martin Public Relations, the government's mainland public relations agency; and Ian Latham, president of Ogilvy and Mather/Atlanta, its advertising agency.
After making presentations at the symposium's Monday morning business session, all five of those individuals abruptly walked out of the meeting. "The group was surprised," Doumeng said of the other attendees.
He and the others were given to understand that "Since the four advisory board members were not there, Richards had to do a duplicate presentation for them elsewhere."
The walkout followed what Doumeng termed a "great" keynote address by Richards on Tourism's upcoming strategies and events. "It was focused and pinpointed," he said.
Doumeng made it clear that he supports Richards as Tourism commissioner. "We have been looking forward to working with Pam," he said. "She has clarity of mind and is succinct, to the point." Richards and Beverly Nicholson, hotel association executive director, "work together almost every day," he said. "The business part of tourism goes on. It's just the public political issues that widen a gap."
Nonetheless, Doumeng said, the walkout left the off-island symposium participants wondering how the territory's Tourism Department operates. "These are North American representatives, and we would have liked our North American manager to meet with them," he said, "especially in our afternoon give-and-take session with airline representatives and tour operators."
Also, Doumeng said, none of the Tourism Department personnel participated in any of the various social functions, which he called "a huge part" of any hospitality industry gathering.
In describing the V.I. tourism industry, Turnbull evoked an ironic image for the world's cruise ship capital. Doumeng quoted the governor as saying, "If we're not careful, we could be a sinking ship." The governor departed several times from his prepared speech, according to several of those attending the dinner.
Calls for conciliation have come from both camps.
Turnbull said in his speech, "We are determined to … make the relationship between the public and private sector a win-win situation for all involved. From this course of action, we will not be deterred."
Doumeng said the hospitality industry leadership wants "to take the high road and focus on what we need to do. We want to see if we can reopen a dialog with the governor and with the Legislature. We have a lot to do. We'd like to turn this around."

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April 24, 2001 - Local hospitality sector executives were still reeling Tuesday from criticism leveled by the territory's top official at a social gathering last weekend attended by some of the key -- and critical -- players in the Virgin Islands tourism industry.
In a speech before off-island and local tourism professionals Saturday night, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull said at one point, "We do not seek confrontation, but cooperation."
That, however, was not the impression received by much of the audience seated in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel's grand ballroom for the privately sponsored Governor's Dinner at the St. Thomas-St. John Hotel and Tourism Association's 8th annual Destination Symposium.
The statement came after Turnbull earlier in the speech blistered the private sector: "There is nothing to gain by engaging in counterproductive actions and statements designed to undermine or postpone the progress we all seek and should all be working toward." He continued that he was "disappointed that four of our tourism partners have declined to have their executive directors serve on my newly formed Tourism Advisory Committee."
"It caught everybody completely off guard," hotel association president Richard Doumeng said later. "There are many opinions on the way to a common goal. The governor is free to say what he wants. I have no concern with what he said, but I wish he had picked a different forum – a hotel association meeting, the Chamber of Commerce, or the Rotary Club."
But Turnbull chose to make the remarks before a gathering of people representing businesses that sent more than $100 million in tourism business to the territory last year.
Doumeng said the symposium participants comprised "the biggest group of people who send business here." Among those 48 people, he added wryly, were "some first timers, who are more sensitive than those who have been coming here longer."
Local hotel and tourism officials who attended Saturday night's dinner have since expressed mild to severe outrage at the governor's comments, most of them wondering what provoked him to use the venue of the Governor's Dinner, a fund raiser for the hotel association's Alton Adams Scholarship Fund. The scholarships assist Virgin Islands young people pursuing studies toward hospitality industry careers. The dinner generated more than $10,000, Doumeng said, much of it contributed by the off-island guests.
The controversy stems from the governor's veto earlier this year of legislation creating a public/private sector Tourism Authority to replace the government's Tourism Department. The local business community leadership strongly supports the idea of the quasi-independent authority, which is endorsed in the governor's own five-year economic recovery plan.
Turnbull countered by creating an advisory council, which business representatives have rejected, saying such advisory bodies in the Virgin Islands over the years have never proven effective. Defending his veto, the governor said he had "major concerns with the way the authority would have been structured."
The rift between the administration and the private sector widened last week when the hotel association turned down Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards' request that the four sitting members of the new advisory board -- all representing the government -- be allowed to attend a part of the symposium without paying the registration fee. Richards wanted the four to hear her presentation and those by the territory's advertising and public relations agencies.
The hotel association did "sponsor" -- that is, cover the conference costs for -- Richards; Monique Sibilly-Hodge, assistant Tourism commissioner; Henry W. DeLagarde, the Tourism Department's New York-based general manager for North America; Amy Atkinson, account supervisor with Martin Public Relations, the government's mainland public relations agency; and Ian Latham, president of Ogilvy and Mather/Atlanta, its advertising agency.
After making presentations at the symposium's Monday morning business session, all five of those individuals abruptly walked out of the meeting. "The group was surprised," Doumeng said of the other attendees.
He and the others were given to understand that "Since the four advisory board members were not there, Richards had to do a duplicate presentation for them elsewhere."
The walkout followed what Doumeng termed a "great" keynote address by Richards on Tourism's upcoming strategies and events. "It was focused and pinpointed," he said.
Doumeng made it clear that he supports Richards as Tourism commissioner. "We have been looking forward to working with Pam," he said. "She has clarity of mind and is succinct, to the point." Richards and Beverly Nicholson, hotel association executive director, "work together almost every day," he said. "The business part of tourism goes on. It's just the public political issues that widen a gap."
Nonetheless, Doumeng said, the walkout left the off-island symposium participants wondering how the territory's Tourism Department operates. "These are North American representatives, and we would have liked our North American manager to meet with them," he said, "especially in our afternoon give-and-take session with airline representatives and tour operators."
Also, Doumeng said, none of the Tourism Department personnel participated in any of the various social functions, which he called "a huge part" of any hospitality industry gathering.
In describing the V.I. tourism industry, Turnbull evoked an ironic image for the world's cruise ship capital. Doumeng quoted the governor as saying, "If we're not careful, we could be a sinking ship." The governor departed several times from his prepared speech, according to several of those attending the dinner.
Calls for conciliation have come from both camps.
Turnbull said in his speech, "We are determined to ... make the relationship between the public and private sector a win-win situation for all involved. From this course of action, we will not be deterred."
Doumeng said the hospitality industry leadership wants "to take the high road and focus on what we need to do. We want to see if we can reopen a dialog with the governor and with the Legislature. We have a lot to do. We'd like to turn this around."