March 4, 2004 – Appearing before the Senate Economic Development, Agriculture and Consumer Protection Committee on Wednesday, Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards spelled out what she sees as the problems plaguing the tourism industry on St. Croix and gave her recommendations for addressing them.
"Diversification of the economy" is essential to boosting the island's tourism, Richards told the legislators.
"In order to have a healthy tourism industry, St. Croix must achieve a growing, diversified and well-balanced island economy," she said.
It would help, Richards said, to have a higher degree of agricultural self-sufficiency and to attract businesses specializing in communications equipment, electronic components and accessories, computer data processing, medical and dental instruments and diversified, small-scale, non-polluting businesses.
She also said it is "critical" that the infrastructure of the island be improved, including its wastewater and solid waste disposal.
"There is convincing evidence that visitors turn away from what they consider to be polluted destinations," Richards said. "I am not proud to note that St. Croix is one of the filthiest islands of the Caribbean. We must strengthen — or, indeed, merely enforce — our anti-litter laws and embark on campaigns designed to impact or ameliorate the negative, destructive behavior."
In January, the only sizable cruise ship expected to visit St. Croix this season, the 350-passenger Radisson Diamond, canceled its call with a few days' notice. Sources cited ongoing sewage problems in Frederiksted as a reason; Richards at the time dismissed those reports, saying she had information indicating that it was a "technical problem" that had turned the ship away. (See "Senators fume over Crucian cruise ship fiasco".)
On Wednesday, in response to senators' questions, Richards said no large ships are expected to visit the island this year. She said cruise line officials have told her the earliest they would consider returning to St. Croix is in 2005, and that she is working toward that end with the companies.
Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd told Richards that she should have staff personnel dedicated to working with the cruise lines. Currently, it is Richards herself who does so.
Another problem plaguing St. Croix's tourism industry is a lack of hospitality training, Richards said. The "sad truth of the matter is that St. Croix is not up to minimum standards in service delivery," she said.
"We must establish zero tolerance for inferior customer service by the provision of regular customer-service training which encompasses all levels of our society, not just our taxi drivers," she said.
Richards said her department has put forth a tourism policy encompassing 11 goals in its St. Croix marketing plan. Among them, she said, are these:
– To instill a senses of pride in the St. Croix community and culture.
– To market St. Croix to the cruise and marine industry.
– To market St. Croix to the overnight visitor market.
– To ensure the safety and security of residents and visitors.
– To market the cultural and heritage aspects of the St. Croix tourism product.
– To develop a destination reference for St. Croix.
– To implement sustainable development models.
– To establish a taxi industry as a professional sector.
"With full implementation of this plan, the community will be engaged fully in the tourism industry," Richards said.
Meanwhile, Richards told committee, "visitation is up" for St. Croix and is expected to increase, especially with a series of charter flights from Denmark scheduled to begin in April.
"Our consistent branding efforts of St. Croix are showing positive returns," she said. "The message is getting across. However, our ultimate survival relies on the ability of the public and private sectors to work together for the common good and benefit of all the people of St. Croix."
Committee members attending the hearing were Sen. Luther Renee, the chair; and Sens. Lorraine Berry, Douglas Canton Jr., Roosevelt David, Emmett Hansen II and Liburd. Sen. Celestino A. White Sr. was not present. Also present was Sen. Usie Richards, who is not a member of the committee.
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