May 4, 2004 – The hotel industry on St. Thomas and St. John showed a strong first quarter for 2004 that's expected to continue through May, but St. Croix continues to lag behind, according to Beverly Nicholson, president of the V.I. Hotel and Tourism Association.
St. Croix's problem is that visitors can't get there, Nicholson said. There simply aren't enough airplane seats available.
Nicholson said the Hotel Association — formed recently by joining the separate St. Thomas-St. John and St. Croix associations — and the Tourism Department hope to encourage more charter flights as well as regularly scheduled service to St. Croix. "It's critical to the survival of the hotel industry," she said.
She said she expects more flights will be in place by the start of the 2004-05 season next fall.
On St. Thomas and St. John, Nicholson said, hotels in the first three months of this year saw an increase in occupancy of 10 to 20 percent over the comparable period in 2003.
The February hotel occupancy statistics released on Monday by the government's Economic Research Bureau do not reflect that growth, according to its director, Lauritz Mills. "I believe the numbers are higher," she said.
Mills charged, as she had done when she released the January statistics last month, that the hotels are not keeping accurate room-occupancy data. She said that a high turnover in the people who prepare the statistics at each hotel contributes to the inaccuracy.
The bureau statistics show that, territorywide, the hotel occupancy rate slipped from 69.8 percent for February 2003 to 68.4 percent for February 2004. For St. Thomas/St. John, it dropped from 74.8 percent to 69.9 percent, while for St. Croix, it rose from 53.2 percent to 63 percent.
Mills did not yet have the hotel occupancy statistics for March, but provided the February and March numbers for other categories.
Territorywide, the number of visitors this February was up 10.1 percent over February 2003. The numbers rose from 237,300 in February 2003 to 261,231 in February 2004.
For March, the number of visitors rose from 262,611 in 2003 to 299,131 in 2004 for an increase of 13.9 percent.
Mills said that February cruise ship visitors grew from 181,901 in 2003 to 205,257 in 2004 for St. Thomas/St. John, an increase of 18.7 percent. For March, the number of cruise ship visitors increased by 21.7 percent, from 189,401 in 2003 to 230,497 this year.
St. Croix had no cruise ship arrivals in February; 112 passengers arrived in March, compared to 4,563 in March 2003.
Air arrivals were up 1.1 percent territorywide in February. They went from 55,400 in February 2003 to 55,974 in February 2004.
In St. Thomas/St. John, February air arrivals dropped by 3 percent, from 46,641 in 2003 to 45,264 this year. For March, the St. Thomas/St. John numbers rose 0.3 percent, from 56,609 in 2003 to 56,776 this year.
On St. Croix, February air arrivals rose 22.3 percent, from 8,759 in 2003 to 10,710 this year. For March, the figures dropped 5.8 percent, from 12,588 in 2003 to 11,859 this year.
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