March 23, 2005 For the first time in the history of St. Thomas, 16,682 cruise passengers disembarked onto the island Tuesday, filling stores and keeping taxi drivers and tour guides busy as they infused the economy with much needed dollars.
At a Public Finance Authority Board of Directors' meeting Wednesday, which took place with no prior notice to the media, Edward Thomas, West Indian Company Ltd. chief executive officer, informed the members of the positive news of increased cruise traffic.
Thomas said the number of cruise passengers visiting the island Tuesday was "more than any other day in history." He said WICO broke its record number of passengers getting off the visiting ships at the Long Bay dock in one day, when a total of 10,557 passengers of the 16,682 visitors Tuesday disembarked at the company's dock. The remaining passengers entered the island at Crown Bay, he said.
Thomas gave the news as part of WICO's annual report to the PFA the sole shareholder of the company.
"The West Indian Company Ltd. and its facilities continue to be a leading gateway to the economic development of the territory," Thomas said in his report.
Thomas said 1.9 million cruise passengers arrived in the St. Thomas-St. John District for the 2004 cruise season, despite three weeks of hurricane activity. Of that number, 1.7 million disembarked at the WICO facility.
"A highlight of the cruise season was the arrival of the S.S. Queen Mary, which made more calls in St. Thomas last year than at any other destination," Thomas said.
Thomas said for the past several years WICO has been a "strong supporter" of the Cruise Conversion program, a program created by the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association to work with destinations to have cruise passengers return as overnight guests.
"We have seen tremendous growth in our hotel sector over the past two years, and we believe that this is in part the result of this program," Thomas said. "The combined cruise tourism and overnight tourism economic activity comprise 64 percent of our gross territorial product, and is increasing."
Hotel occupancy taxes increased from $13 million in 2003 to $14.6 million in 2004, Thomas said.
Thomas said WICO is about 90 percent complete with its 2005-2006 schedule, which will see visits from several new ships. These include the Norwegian Dawn, Norwegian Spirit, Norwegian Jewel, Carnival Liberty, the Costa Magica, the megaship Noordam, and the new megaship Crown Princess.
"We are having a very good year, and after a moderate summer, are poised to have another banner year in 2005-2006," Thomas said.
The PFA board then went into executive session to discuss financial matters concerning WICO.
In other action, the PFA board voted unanimously to approve a $385,000 appropriation for WTJX Channel-12/DT-44, the territory's public broadcasting television station, for the expansion of the company's St. Croix facility.
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