Nov. 12, 2003 – Perhaps the third time will be a charm. Sen. Lorraine Berry said on Wednesday that her Tourism Authority bill should reach the Senate floor next week when the body meets in full session to consider the fiscal year 2004 budget.
Despite strong support from her colleagues — the legislation has nine co-sponsors — Berry has had a tough time getting the measure onto the floor. It had been on the agenda for two previous sessions but was pre-empted at the last minute for more pressing matters.
The bill went through two public hearings last May and has been the subject of numerous public and private meetings. (See "Senators, public speak on Tourism Authority bill".)
The stumbling blocks have been the proposed dissolution of the Tourism Department, which Gov. Charles W. Turnbull has said he will not sanction, and the makeup of the authority board.
"The Tourism Department remains," Berry said on Wednesday of the current legislation. "What will change is that the board will be responsible for marketing and promotion. All those involved in that will be supervised by the board," which would include the Tourism commissioner as a member. The department would retain day-to-day functions including collecting industry data, working with local businesses and running the visitor bureaus.
The bill as first introduced called for a board with five public-sector members and four business members, all to be appointed by the governor, with the hotel associations and chambers of commerce each to recommend a member to the governor and all private-sector members to require Senate confirmation. In April, the bill was amended in committee to give the board six private-sector representatives and the government three. (See "Public to get its say on Tourism Authority bill".)
That version has now been scrapped. The current legislation calls for a 13-member board comprising seven government and six business members, an arrangement that Berry and other supporters say will likely sit well with the governor, being weighted on the side of the public sector.
The bill incorporates two other major changes:
First, the authority would have control of the Tourism and Advertising Revolving Fund, which would be restructured as a trust fund to be used only for marketing purposes. The Legislature has with regularity dipped into the fund for unrelated purposes. "Once the money is in the fund, only the board can determine how it is spent," Berry said.
Second, the Tourism commissioner would cease to chair the Port Authority board, as is now the case. Many see the overlapping of responsibilities as representing a conflict of interest.
Berry denied that she had "brokered" any deal with Turnbull regarding the bill, as was reported elsewhere on Wednesday. "I have not spoken with the governor," she said.
However, she said she has the endorsement of Edward E. Thomas Sr., chief executive of The West Indian Co. "He is 100 per cent behind the bill," she said. Thomas and the leadership of the territory's hotel associations and Chambers of Commerce have staunchly supported the need for a Tourism Authority. (See "Business leaders concur: V.I. tourism needs help".)
The territory has not changed the manner in which it manages tourism, the lifeblood of its economy, in 25 years, David Yamada, St. Thomas-St. John Hotel and Tourism Association president, said at a hearing in May. And, he added, the Virgin Islands has been rapidly losing pace with its Caribbean competitors.
The proposed authority, Yamada said then, would "ensure more stability and consistency in the management of marketing our tourism destination." And, he said, the proposed structure would be "insulated from changes in political administrations." In Turnbull's administration alone there have been three Tourism commissioners along with two others who served for months in an acting capacity.
The seven public-sector members now called for on the board would comprise the chief executives of the Economic Development Authority and of WICO, the executive director of the Port Authority, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, the St. John administrator, the Tourism commissioner and one other government appointee.
The six private-sector members would represent each of the Chambers of Commerce, each of the hotel associations, Frederiksted economic interests and the taxi industry. The taxi seat would rotate between the two districts, with the first member to come from St. Croix.
Efforts to get comments from private-sector stakeholders in the proposed authority on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
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