Oct. 13, 2004 Edward Thomas, chief executive officer at the West Indian Co., said Tuesday he expects the number of passengers arriving in St. Thomas aboard cruise ships to be up 3 percent this year over last year.
"It's excellent," he said afterWICO last week released the winter cruise ship update.
Several factors contributed to the slight increase in this winter's arrivals. Thomas said it appears Grenada, which took a terrible beating when Hurricane Ivan swept through, will not be able to receive cruise ships for the entire winter.
He said Freeport in the Bahamas is out of the picture until December while it rebuilds its battered port facilities.
Additionally, he said about 80 percent of the cruise ships that call in St. Thomas, visit St. Thomas before heading to St. Maarten or not call in St. Maarten at all. This gives St. Thomas and St. John merchants first crack at passengers' money when ships stop first in St. Thomas.
"St. Maarten is our biggest competition," he said.
Lastly, some cruise ships now leave from mainland ports. It takes them two days to reach the Caribbean. Since St. Thomas is their first port of call, passengers are ready to spend their money.
Bureau of Economic Research statistics indicate that the number of cruise ship passengers continues to rise. In 2003, a total of 1.75 million people arrived in St. Thomas/St. John aboard cruise ships. That number was up from 1.67 million in 2002, the year after the nation was hit by terrorist attacks. In 2001, the total reached 1.79 million.
By the end of August 2004, 1.32 million visited compared to 1.14 million at the same time last year. The numbers were consistently higher for every month of this year than last year, including a gain of 36.4 percent in June, the biggest increase in passengers. Except for April, which had only a 2 percent increase, all the other months had percentage increases in the double digits.
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.
Thomas said cruise ships crews spent an average of $130 per person last year compared to $93 the year before.
With an occasional exception, the larger cruise ships tie up or drop anchor in St. Thomas, not St. John. However, many passengers take tours to St. John or arrive independently, both of which fuel the island's coffers.
"Tours continue to be big business," Thomas said.
He said the ferry companies benefit from this business.
The smaller ships like the Windspirit do drop anchor outside Cruz Bay Harbor.
Radha Speer, who owns Caravan Gallery in Mongoose Junction shopping center on St. John, said cruise ship passenger spend less at her store than her local customers.
However, there is a silver lining. "Many people who enjoy St. John year after year, first discovered it on a cruise. It gives St. John exposure to a much wider market," she said.
At Carnival Bazaar gift shop in Havensight Mall on St. Thomas, manager Jana Cammie said an increase in the number of cruise ship passengers was good news.
"And the season is just now starting to pick up," she said. This means the staff will be able to put in full weeks rather than just the two or three days they worked throughout the summer.
Alfred Lloyd, WICO operations director, said that Wednesdays are always the most "powerful" days.
"But Tuesdays could be equally busy," he said.
And, some Sundays will be busy too.
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