Sept. 17, 2001 — With the nations airline companies facing huge financial losses from terrorist attacks on the mainland, Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen says it's time to create a tourism authority.
U.S. airlines, including American Airlines, which essentially has a monopoly on service to the Virgin Islands, are expected to cut back flights because of the financial losses — between $100 million and $250 million per company per day — experienced when the nation's air space was shut down for nearly three days, according to the Associated Press.
Like other companies, American Airlines is contemplating a cut in flights of up to 20 percent. Continental is planning to lay off 12,000 employees.
Because the attacks will likely result in a dropoff in visitors here, Hansen said, it is vital for the government to make sure the territory is advertised effectively. Part of that, she said, means resurrecting the idea of a tourism authority.
"I think that is the way to go," Hansen said.
A tourism authority bill was vetoed earlier this year by Gov. Charles Turnbull. The bill would have seen the Tourism Department dismantled and a board of six private-sector representatives and three government-sector members installed to manage the territorys tourism policies. The board, which would have been a semi-autonomous government agency similar to the Port Authority, would have been funded by hotel room occupancy taxes and would have had the authority to issue bonds.
Turnbull objected to the structure and composition of the agency, which would have had majority representation from the business community.
Hansen said she still supports the idea of a tourism authority, more so now with the possible after-effects of the terror attacks.
She has said the $11 million collected annually in hotel occupancy taxes, which by law is supposed to be used only for marketing the territory, should be increased to $14 million.
"We cannot afford to have money come out of the Tourism Revolving Fund for other purposes," Hansen said. "Every dime from the tourism occupancy tax should go toward marketing the U.S. Virgin Islands."
Over the weekend, Turnbull said his planners are looking at ways to "mitigate negative impacts" following the attacks. He didnt elaborate.
"We are not unmindful that our economy will be impacted," Turnbull said.
The tourism industry worldwide is girding for a dropoff in business as travelers rethink vacation plans because of the terror attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon. The deadly attacks were carried out using hijacked commercial airliners.
The World Tourism Organization says the money spent by vacationers is the main source of income for almost 40 percent of the world's countries. In the territory, revenue generated by tourism is estimated to be more than $500 million annually, according to the U.S. Office of Insular Affairs.