Nov. 18, 2004 – Guest speaker Edward E. Thomas offered advice to the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce at its luncheon meeting at Villa Morales restaurant on Wednesday.
The West Indian Co. president and chief executive officer urged the business organization to take matters of tourism into its own hands. But guidance wasn't the only thing Thomas was dispensing. On behalf of WICO, Thomas handed out a total of $55,000 to three St. Croix organizations.
Thomas told chamber members to join forces with the Department of Tourism to jump-start the cruise industry in St. Croix. But in order to get the island ready to welcome back cruise visitors they must complete the mandates set out in the 2001 operating agreement among the government, Port Authority, WICO and the Florida Caribbean Cruise Lines. Those mandates include strengthening the island's identity and developing on-shore passenger events. Thomas said St. Croix has made headway in improving its infrastructure with the start of the waterfront renovations – another mandate of the agreement. "The Frederiksted pier can handle any ship," Thomas said. Thomas told chamber members to contact Michelle Paige, Florida Cruise Lines president, and "indicate to her that you are ready to implement the plan."
"Who is responsible for tourism? You are," he said, gesturing to the crowd. "The government's job is to promote it." Thomas said many private businesses in St. Thomas cater to the tourism market and St. Croix should follow their lead.
Thomas suggested tourism is the best way to raise revenues in St. Croix. "Tourism is the principal industry in the Virgin Islands," said Thomas. He said over $2 billion a year is realized through tourism. "Tourism generates 64 percent of V.I. revenues, with 16 percent attributed to Hovensa revenues and 20 percent to other sources," Thomas said. "I did the calculations."
Thomas said Hovensa's contribution to the government was "woefully small," and the chamber should insist Delegate Donna M. Christiansen lobby Congress for the return of the gasoline excise taxes. He went one step further, suggesting that Christensen ask her colleagues in congress to "craft a complete overhaul of the tax package for the Virgin Islands."
Thomas credited two new WICO board members for initiating talks that led to cruise ships bunkering in St. Croix. St. Croix has a "higher level of representation" on the board with the appointment of St. Croix Administrator Gregory Francis and former senator Bent Lawaetz, Thomas said. He added that this is the first time St. Croix representatives have served on the WICO board. Thomas also said that he was asked to be more involved in getting ships to St. Croix in the future.
At the end of his presentation Thomas reached deep into the WICO goodie bag. Representatives of three organizations were wearing smiles as bright as children on Christmas morning when they opened envelopes containing sizable donations from WICO. CEO Gregory Calliste and cardiologist Dr. Kendall Griffith accepted a $10,000 check for the Juan F. Luis Hospital Cardiac Center of Excellence. Crucian Festival President Lenise Hunt accepted a donation of $10,000 for the cash-strapped Christmas celebration. And Bridget Dawson, representing the Frederiksted Economic Development Association, whose signature event is Sunset Jazz, got a $35,000 boost for the West End organization.
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