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V.I. Hoteliers Hoping for a Busy Winter Season

Oct. 11, 2006 — It's too early to tell how Christmas and the winter season will shape up when it comes to hotel occupancy, V.I. Hotel and Tourism Association President Beverly Nicholson said this week.
"It's probably another three weeks before we can tell what Christmas will look like," she said.
According to Nicholson, the requirement that travelers returning to the United States from foreign destinations, like the nearby British Virgin Islands, will need passports to get back into the United States has confused travelers.
Nicholson said confusion over the rule, which goes into effect Jan. 8, 2007, may have dissuaded some people from traveling to the territory because they erroneously think they need a passport to return to the United States from the U.S. Virgin Islands.
"We've been doing a lot of education on this," Nicholson said.
Many announcements from various segments of the travel industry indicate that a passport is needed when returning from the Caribbean, but fail to note that the U.S. Virgin Islands is not included in that ruling because it is a U.S. territory.
The association came out Monday with expected occupancy rates for many of the territory's properties during October, November and December. They show a mixed bag, with a December low of 27 percent for one property on St. Croix and a high of 91 percent for a St. John property.
Nicholson said that some places have lengthy minimum stays over the Christmas holidays, so she suspects people are waiting to book until they have their flights and vacations finalized.
According to Nicholson, October looks strong, adding that she's hearing reports from her members of last-minute bookings, a practice that continues to grow as travelers decide to make impromptu trips.
Marriot Frenchman's Reef Beach Resort sales and marketing manager Lisa Hamilton said business was good for the St. Thomas hotel in September and looks good for the fall and holiday season.
Hamilton said that the closing of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on St. Thomas for refurbishment and the reduced inventory at the Westin Resort and Villas, which is converting some units to time-shares, helped.
"We saw unprecedented demand in September," she said, noting that the rate was up 8 percent over the same month last year.
She said that the Paradise Jam basketball tournament planned on St. Thomas for November is also giving a boost to occupancy rates. Hamilton said that the event also helps occupancy rates at other hotels.
Hamilton said Christmas also looks strong, but the hotel is not yet filled up.
Vicki Locke at the Buccaneer Hotel on St. Croix said that the hotel gets lots of repeat guests, which help push the occupancy rate numbers up to 60 percent for October and 80 percent for both November and December.
"And we have a marketing plan that's been growing over the years and is working," she said.
She said the Buccaneer, which in 2007 will celebrate its 60th year as a hotel, is mounting a public relations campaign that capitalizes on the hotel's Oct. 1 designation as an Historic Hotel of America by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
She also said that small groups and weddings help to fill rooms during the slower fall months.
Nancy Anderson at McLaughlin Anderson Luxury Villas on St. Thomas said phone calls dropped off as hurricane season ramped up, but she expects to be busy throughout the fall and winter.
"Christmas was booked up months in advance," she said.
She said there are only a few vacancies for the busy holiday season available.
Jon Schutt at Coconut Coast Villas on St. John also said his nine condominium style units are filled up for Christmas. "But Thanksgiving is only 75 percent," he said.
Schutt said that he thinks Coconut Coast does well because he's always there to answer the phone. He said that if no one answers the phone, last-minute bookers in particular will just move on to the next small property on their list.
He said last-minute bookings are definitely on the increase.
Claudia Carrington at Carringtons Inn on St. Croix said October was slow, but November and December look a bit better.
Carrington said her inn, like many small properties, depends on the Internet for bookings because conventional advertising costs too much. She said she had her website up and running before the five-room property opened six years ago.
She said that sometimes people call on the toll-free number with a question, but still do their booking online.
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