Any economic downfall on the US mainland takes anywhere from a year to 18 months to affect us in the Virgin Islands and the current recession has only recently begun to affect our prices – but with a vengeance. Anybody who makes regular trips to the supermarkets would have to be a relative of an ostrich to not notice the leaps and jumps in retail prices of basic goods which are literally increasing every week. Our own contribution to a decline is WAPA's latest 22% increase. No need to go into the history of WAPA with its antediluvian equipment, entirely dependent on oil and an issue which should have been
addressed well over 20 years ago. WAPA's increases (and that 22% is only the beginning) aren't a main cause of what one can only imagine to be the worst tourist season in recent history but they certainly are a big contributing factor.
Wholesale food merchants, hotels and restaurants rely on freezers. Food merchants already hit by higher transportation costs have a double whammy with huge electricity increases without which they cannot store food at proper temperatures. Their wholesale costs get passed on to the hotels and restaurants who likewise are hit with those WAPA increases and then are forced to pass them on to their customers. I've recently spoken to several small convenience store owners who are just keeping a roof over their heads and they're combining freezers where possible, shutting down lighting where they can, running the AC only for a few hours in the afternoon, etc. but see no end and fear that they will have to close down as basic operating costs continue to escalate.
Potential visitors are having a very difficult time finding reasonable air fares to the territory and there's no doubt that the ever-increasing fares will force many to curtail their annual visits. Many homeowners here buy real property as an investment from the fanciest villas to the "apartment under the house" and all these are suffering too. How much can you raise your rent to cover your operating expenses – not much. And many will suffer from huge losses in the next year as the tourist well dries up and their rentals sit empty. Hotels are going to be slammed likewise as their pool dries up. It won't be difficult for a visitor to find good deals, as long as they can afford the airfare to get to those good deals! Restaurants will be cutting down on help so those seasonal newbies won't be able to find a job and thus won't be able to fill those seasonal apartment rentals; villa and condo rentals are apparently already experiencing a major downturn in seasonal bookings; hotel and resort owners have already expressed their misgivings about next year's figures.
I'm used to this transient society and seeing people coming here for often many years and then leaving for many different reasons. But within my own small circle I've seen a recent exodus not evidenced since right after hurricane Marilyn in '95 of people selling their businesses and homes to take their chances stateside because they've seen the writing on the wall. The first thing they all comment upon is how their monthly utility bills are a quarter of what they were paying here for the same service.
I'm having a very hard time even searching for a light at the end of the tunnel other than to remark that it really is time for voters to take their voting rights very seriously this time around and elect representatives who truly do care about the future of the Virgin
Islands and have as good business acumen as our current Governor. Reduce the number of elected representatives, reduce the pay and all the perks (those SUVs should be the first to go) and get rid of those posturing twits whose only saving grace is that they know how to do a good fish fry and make unfulfilled promises.
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