Oct 13, 2004 – Cruise-ship statistics really had nowhere to go but up on St. Croix.
In the first six months of 2004, according to the V.I. Bureau of Economic Research Web site, St. Croix had 1,654 cruise-ship visitors, a drop of over 90 percent from the same time period in 2003. In turn, the year of 2003 had 23,000 cruise ship visitors, a drop of over 80 percent from 2002 when St. Croix had 120,000 cruise ship arrivals.
The recent announcement by Edward E. Thomas, the West Indian Company Limited president, of seven visits by the cruise ship Opera this season and its potential to deliver 12,000 visitors, will be looked upon by many as a positive development.
St. Croix businessman Chris Powers, owner of Judi of Croix Car Rental, has mixed feelings about the cruise passengers. He said Wednesday, "I am supportive of cruise ships, if they contribute to the local economy, but often that doesn't happen."
He is, however, enthused about the potential result of the cruise visitors. "I hear that 20 percent of the people who visit an island on a cruise ship return to that island for land stays within five years."
Steven Bornn, director of marketing for the department of tourism, said Wednesday that he did not see a direct correlation between cruise visitations and hotel stays. However, he said the department has a program to convince cruise-ship visitors to return to the islands. He said that is not an easy job to do on St. Croix because St. Croix is so unique. He said the people who will enjoy the beauty of St. Croix belong to a certain niche market.
Bornn was upbeat about the news of the cruise ship Opera's planned visits to St. Croix.
"Not a day goes by when we don't think about increasing visitorship in the U.S. Virgin Islands."
He added that Pamela Richards, the tourism commissioner, played an active part in the talks that resulted in those visits and there were more ongoing talks concerning cruise ships. He said, "I am confident, given the commissioner's fortitude and aggressiveness, that we will be making more announcements about increased cruise-ship activity in upcoming months." He said he was not at liberty to disclose any specifics.
The brand-new Mediterranean Shipping Co. vessel Opera will make one call on St. Croix this year – Dec. 8. The visits next year are Jan. 19, Feb. 2, Feb. 16, March 2, March 16 and March 30.
The ship has 878 cabins and 800 crewmembers and can carry 1,756 passengers, according to the company Web site. The visits to Frederiksted are scheduled between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Thomas said passenger spending is up. He said that last year, passengers spent an average of $273 per person on shopping, tours, taxi rides and other items. In 2002, they spent an average of $211 per person.
Bornn said the upswing in all areas of tourism shows that the Tourism Department's recent efforts have been successful.
According to the Economic Research Web site, 430,000 people visited the Virgin Islands in 2004, up from 390,000 in the first six months of 2003. St. Croix's numbers in those time periods rose from 64,000 visitors to 82,000 visitors.
Bornn said, "The proof is in the pudding."
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