Oct. 21, 2004 While many St. John residents always thought V.I. National Park was the engine that kept the island's economy on track, the Friends of the Park now has the data to prove it.
"Approximately $92 million flows through the economy in direct sales," Jane Israel told a dozen park officials, staff and residents gathered Thursday at the park's Maintenance Department's conference room in Cruz Bay.
She said that the $92 million accounts for 7 percent of the money spent by visitors to the entire territory.
Friends president Joe Kessler said that the $92 million in direct sales, which is what visitors actually spent, coupled with what the park spends and other spin-off costs put the total at $127.6 million.
Israel, who holds a master's degree with a specialization in environmental economic analysis, was hired by the Friends to conduct a survey during the winter 2003 tourism season.
And a visitor survey done in 2004 indicated that 80 percent of the people who visit St. John come because of the park's presence.
"Forty-five percent of them had been here before," Israel said.
The 2003 study showed that 821,681 people visited the park for recreational purposes. Sixty percent of them visited between December and May.
Israel developed her figures by calculating how much the average party spent. That figure came out to $335 per party. She also broke it down by type of guest. Those staying at hotels spent an average of $630 during their stay. Villa and condo guests spent an average of $533. Campground guests spent an average of $303, while those arriving by boat spent an average of $217. Day visitors spent an average of $139.
She said about 20 percent of the territory's total employment is linked to the park's presence. She estimated that spending by park visitors generates $45 million in personal income and supports 2,393 jobs.
The park in 2004 employed 78 people. It has a payroll of $4.1 million, with $3.2 million of that figure being paid out in wages. The rest are benefits.
In addition to payroll, it spends $600,000 to operate the park and $350,000 on construction projects.
Kessler said that the jobs directly related to tourism coupled with the park jobs and non-tourism jobs that happen thanks to the park's presence bring the total number of jobs to 2,531.
"I find that pretty amazing," he said.
Although St. John has two large hotels, several condominium complexes and two campgrounds, many of its tourism-related businesses are small operations like taxi drivers, vacation villa managers, restaurants, tour operators and gift shops.
"I think people come to St. John because of the natural beauty of St. John, which is preserved by the park," Kate Campbell, owner of Pink Papaya gift shop, said.
She said that although people would probably still visit if the park were not established, they would be a different type of people.
"And I like the people who come for the natural beauty," she said.
St. John Administrator Julien Harley was floored to find the figure was so high.
"I knew it was a lot, but I didn't think it would be so high," he said.
He said he's always thought that the park was good for St. John.
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