Feb. 23, 2004 – A Monday night forum on progress toward attracting cruise ships back to St. Croix provided no answers and offered little in the way of prospective solutions to the continuing plight of the island's tourism industry.
The forum, held at the New Drive Inn, was hosted by Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste. "It's time to galvanize our forces and move forward toward the revitalization of the cruise ship industries," he said.
Senate President David S. Jones, who chairs the St. Croix Cruise Ship Task Force, said ships will not be returning to St. Croix any time in 2004. And their return in 2005, he added, is contingent on the island meeting the benchmarks set by the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association.
In a Feb. 3 letter to Jones, Jn Baptiste said that in previous meetings he attended with members of the hospitality industry and the general community, participants expressed their "disappointment with the apparent lack of urgency" to get the cruise lines to come back. "The present cruise ship task force has not released any information relative to its findings and/or actions taken thus far," the letter stated.
On Monday night, Jones reviewed events leading up to the creation of the task force and its subsequent meetings. "This issue is not driven by David Jones or the cruise ship task force," he said. He said the F-CCA's major concerns are:
– Lack of specific branding of St. Croix.
– Inadequate on-island transportation of passengers.
– Lack of on-island tour packages.
– Security for passengers and crew.
– Taxi drivers who are not knowledgeable about the islands' history.
Strides have been made in identifying the uniqueness of St. Croix, Jones said. "Our branding will be culture — heritage tourism," he said, citing the recently enacted bill declaring quelbe the official music of the Virgin Islands. "Quelbe is an element that will be incorporated and integrated into the branding of St. Croix," he said, adding that the branding needs to be "certified so as not to confuse the market."
Jones applauded the efforts of the Frederiksted Economic Development Association and its promotion of "St. Croix, the gem of the Caribbean," a campaign which focuses on the history and culture of the island.
He also said the Government Development Bank has $2 million available for St. Croix projects and urged small businesses to develop tour packages appealing to tourists.
Some of the F-CCA concerns are unresolved, he said. On the issue of transportation, the association cited unattractive "school bus-type" equipment and called for air-conditioned vehicles to transport tourists instead, he said.
The training of taxi drivers is vital, Jones said, but while the Tourism Department and FEDA offer free training, sessions are not well attended. "It's disheartening," he said. "Training improves the quality of the product … Tour operators must be familiar with the product."
Jones said the task force will report at the 2004 Seatrade Cruise Shipping Convention next month on the strides St. Croix has made. Sponsored by the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association and the International Council of Cruise Lines, the convention takes place March 15-18 in Miami Beach, Fla.
"In 2005, we hope we will be on the road to receive cruise ships," Jones said.
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