Congratulations to Governor Turnbull for acting to preserve the intent and mission of one of the most critical departments within the Virgin Islands government! By refusing to allow the private sector to usurp the responsibility or authority of the tourism professionals he has demonstrated his support and confidence in those responsible for the territory.
Giving the commissioner authority commensurate with the responsibility her position dictates is the right thing to do. Providing her with a diverse group of private sector representatives, for the purpose of providing advise, counsel and resources, is good business.
I speak from first-hand experience when I say that Pamela Richards is highly respected in the international tourism community as a sincere, dedicated, well-informed professional who represents the U.S. Virgin Islands with dignity and grace. As the former general manager of the Carambola Beach Resort, I had numerous opportunities at Caribbean and stateside conferences and local meetings to see the commissioner "in action," interacting with large and small groups, representing cross-sections of hospitality/tourism-related businesses and governmental entities.
Her presentation skills are of the highest caliber and the content she shares, always on target and credible. Additionally, her commanding presence and genuine interest in listening and learning are attributes critical to accomplishing the department's mission.
A casual perusal of bottom-line tourism budgets of some of our competitors would alert even the casual observer to our No. 1 problem: the old adage "you get what you pay for." Competition continues to increase, and will do so eternally. Yes, many department of the government are significantly understaffed and the budgets, grossly inadequate. However, as there is now general acceptance that tourism is the foundation upon which our islands will grow and prosper in the short term(?), one would think that adequate resources, both human and financial, would be allocated without doubt.
However, dollars will not resolve the tourism-related problems in the territory. Let's look at some other issues that, although critical to the success of the department, are not being adequately addressed: The "C" word, crime. The "D" word, derelict environs — abandoned buildings, empty lots turned to garbage dumps, litter, old cars, to mention a few.
In another vein, neither will activities of private sector groups that are not coordinated before the fact with the commissioner of Tourism advance the efforts of the profesionals.
A strategic Tourism Development Plan needs to be created in collaboration with the private sector, and clearly defined roles established. The responsibility for carrying out the plan must rest with the Department of Tourism, as it has both the authority and the responsibility to do so.
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