March 23, 2005 Tourism statistics for the year 2004 indicate a record 2.6 million people visited the territory in 2004, up 9.7 percent over 2003.
"This is a clear and strong indication that this administration's tourism promotion and marketing campaign is proving effective," Gov. Charles Turnbull said in a news release issued Wednesday.
Those marketing efforts included a partnership with American Airlines, U.S. Airways and Delta Airlines to sell packages.
Tourism Department marketing director Steve Bornn said that vacation package ads have dedicated phone numbers. He said when a customer calls Delta, the operator answers "Delta Airlines U.S. Virgin Islands."
In the case of the other two airlines, the operator gets a whispered alert that the customer is calling thanks to a Virgin Islands ad.
"So they know to sell the U.S. Virgin Islands," Bornn said.
While he declined to disclose strategies because they're proprietary information, he said the affect from the joint airline promotions carries over to television advertising.
Bornn said that while there was no need this winter to offer added-value packages because the season boomed, in the slower months the extras helped. Guests received things like a free room after a specified number of nights or $50 in spending money.
"It gave a lot of readership and recall ability to the ads," he said.
And he said that some packages are room only, which allows people to take advantage of airline specials like the Net SAAvers offered by American Airlines. Net SAAvers offer weekly last-minute airfare specials, and sometimes they include the Virgin Islands.
Beverly Nicholson, president of the V.I. Hotel Association, said that in addition to good hotel occupancy rates, hoteliers were able to charge a "normal" rate for their rooms.
"We weren't giving away the house to get people here," she said.
Bureau of Economic Research director Lauritz Mills said in the news release that the Virgin Islands status as an American territory provided the perception that it was a safe place to travel.
Additionally, she said that the weak value of the dollar against European currencies made it economical to vacation in the Virgin Islands.
According to the Bureau of Economic Research figures, 2004 air arrivals across the territory were up 6.6 percent to 661,834 from 620,814 in 2003.
In the St. Thomas/St. John district, the total number of visitors had a 10.2 percent gain. The numbers went up to 2.5 million from 2.26 million in 2003.
On St. Croix, the total number of visitors went up 14.9 percent to 158,499 from 137,970 in 2003.
The number of cruise ship passengers grew by 10.8 percent to 1.96 million from 1.77 million in 2003.
The territory saw a total of 924 cruise ship calls, up 4.1 percent over the previous year.
Territory-wide, the hotel occupancy rate went up 4.7 percent to 61.8 percent over the previous year.
Total visitor arrivals were up by 7.1 percent in December 2004 rose to 302,248 from 281,097 in 2003 thanks to a growth in the number of cruise ship visitors. The figures indicate that cruise ship passenger arrivals went up 9.4 percent to 239,292 from 219,695 in 2003.
The number of visitors arriving by air went down slightly. The number fell to 62,956 from 63,402 in 2003, a drop of 0.7 percent.
The December hotel occupancy rate for the entire territory went up to 65.5 percent from 60.1 percent in December 2004.
The figures for hotels in the St. Thomas/St. John district showed a slight increase to 67.9 percent from 64.6 percent in December 2004.
St. Croix hotels registered a 59.9 percent occupancy rate in December compared with 45.6 percent last December.
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