Oct. 15, 2003 – An infusion of Danish visitors — about 4,000, all told — will reach St. Croix's shores on direct flights from Denmark starting next April and continuing at two-week intervals throughout the year.
The flights from Copenhagen on a chartered 219-seat Boeing 757-300 aircraft will take about nine hours, according to Torben Eirby, president of the Danish West Indies Travel Agency. That compares with a typical travel time of about 36 hours on commercial aircraft with connections, he said. Eirby said he has contracted with ATC, a Danish charter company, to provide the nonstop service.
The coming visits are a "win-win situation," Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards said on Wednesday afternoon. "It's the beginning of a new partnership with the Danes, and it's something we think we can grow."
Richards said several St. Croix hoteliers, along with Eirby, presented the project to him earlier this year, requesting government assistance in getting it off the ground. "One of the things that drove me on the project is that the hoteliers came to me," Richards said. "They thought it was a good project. This type private sector-public partnership is something we have to continually work on."
He said he has worked with Eirby in particular and with the Tourism Department to make the project "become a reality."
The government will provide $400,000 from the Tourism Revolving and Advertising Fund for an intense ad campaign in Denmark to promote travel packages with the local hotels, Richards said. He said he didn't know if the money would come from the Fiscal Year 2004 budget, which has not yet been enacted, or from the FY 2003 budget.
Crucian fashion designer, antiques collector, lawyer and historic preservationist Wayne James, who is serving as an economic consultant to Richards, said on Wednesday that the project is "just one element of a whole plan for St. Croix." It is, however, an important piece, and likely the best economic news St. Croix has had for some time.
The flights will even get an indirect boost from television. The Danes will be seeing a lot of St. Croix on a popular family TV series that airs each December in Denmark, "The Pixie Gang." This year's segment, to air Dec. 1-14 with a different episode each day, is called "Island of the Pixies," and it was shot on St. Croix last May and June.
The story is about pixies who were left behind on St. Croix when the Danes left in 1917. They end up calling on the Danish Pixie Gang to come and save the day when a scheme that involves commercializing Christmas gets out of hand.
James said the direct charter flight project started "moving with a different energy" in May when it was decided to tie it in with the exposure St. Croix would get from television show. "That clinched the deal," he said.
"The series has an audience of millions — it's a prime-time show," Richards said. We saw the opportunity to cash in on the exposure we got from filming. They will see downtown Christiansted, Fort Christiansvaern and other parts of the island. It's an ideal opportunity."
After meeting with Eirby and Sweeny Toussaint, president of the St. Croix Friends of Denmark; Sid Kalmans, Caravelle Hotel general manager; and Earl Powell, King Christian Hotel general manager, to set up the project, Richards said, he didn't need much nudging.
"I was sold on the idea," Richards said. "I thought it was perfect for St. Croix. I asked the governor for support, and he gave me his blessing."
Richards and Eirby signed a marketing agreement on Oct. 8, while Richards was acting governor while Gov. Charles W. Turnbull was in St. Martin attending the annual Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association conference.
"I was very happy when we signed off on the contract," Richards said. "We used to have a very good relationship with the Danes and a lot of Danish visitors. I hope this will help building that relationship back."
Powell said he is "excited, very pleased" about the arrangement. "We all worked hard and long on this," he said.
Richards held a press briefing on the charter flights on Tuesday in which Eirby participated by telephone from Denmark. Eirby said he expects to be in the territory in the next two weeks and that he will provide more details about the project then.
In a release distributed on Tuesday, Eirby noted that the Virgin Islands and Denmark "have more than 250 years of common history." This, in itself, forms a solid basis for continued relations, he said.
Eirby expressed pleasure about the exposure the television series will afford St. Croix in Denmark. "That and a historical low dollar-currency rate create an opportunity we never have had before, and will never get again, to get the Danes to come to the V.I. in great numbers," he said.
St. Thomas and St. John will get some of the action, as well. Eirby said the flights will land and take off on St. Croix, but guests will travel to the other islands for overnight stays via Cape Air and Seaborne Airlines or the V.I. Fast Ferry.
Eirby didn't say what the cost of the charter flights will be, but he did say it will be "an affordable price." Likewise, he said, "it will give the Virgin islanders a chance to fly directly to Denmark and enjoy our country, with plenty of connections to the rest of Europe."
Richard said that "a critical point" of the coming charters "is we can now take advantage of the 10,000-foot extension to the runway at the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport." He said the extension, along with the new control tower, is expected to be completed in the first weeks of January, "and then we can begin looking at how to handle European travel." The long runway is designed to accommodate the largest commercial aircraft.
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