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HomeNewsLocal newsBryan Talks Up Inter-Regional Travel at Governor’s Association Meeting

Bryan Talks Up Inter-Regional Travel at Governor’s Association Meeting

Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. in D.C. at the Governor’s Association meeting. (Government House photo)

Speaking in Washington, D.C., where he was attending the National Governors Association winter meeting, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. said restoring intra-regional travel was an integral first step for restoring Caribbean tourism, and that Puerto Rico could be a key player in boosting tourism for the region and beyond.

According to a release from Government House, Bryan agreed with other Caribbean leaders on the importance of rebooting intra-Caribbean travel, while lamenting the inconvenience of needing to transit through Miami when traveling to a neighboring island.

To avoid such time-consuming diversions he suggested a “greater hopper system” out of Puerto Rico: “That’s a great hub so you can get to some of the smaller islands that are emerging as tourism destinations,” as well as flying people who want to get to their homes in other Caribbean nations.

“So I think that Puerto Rico needs to develop that Caribbean hub and they need to develop their transit flights from Europe, as well as South America. That would have a huge impact on not only Puerto Rico, but also smaller islands,” he said in a release.

Bryan said Puerto Rico, because of its proximity to the USVI and its massive agricultural, production and shipping resources, can “single-handedly lower the cost of living in the Caribbean by establishing these food and service hubs in Puerto Rico, traveling out to our smaller islands.”

On the current state of tourism, Bryan said he believes the territory, with its varied resources, had prepared “in a way that bolsters us against any surges in the pandemic.” He said the USVI was in the midst of a $10 billion renovation of its infrastructure, including its ports and shoreline in Charlotte Amalie, revamping the city of Frederiksted on St. Croix, and enhancing its sports tourism facilities like Paul E. Joseph Stadium in Frederiksted.

Of the smallest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Bryan said St. John, with its natural beauty, was booming in terms of visitors relaxing in the beauty of the beaches and the National Park, which he pledged would be preserved forever.

The territory’s work to safely receive cruise ships, he reported, led to a newfound productive and collaborative relationship with the major cruise lines.

The governor’s open port approach also helped to strengthen a niche sector of the tourism industry – marine tourism: “I allowed all of the U.S. flagged boats to return to the Virgin Islands when Puerto Rico and other ports said no. And, we kept seeing more and more vessels every single day and when the pandemic set in really hard, they just stayed.” Then charter boat companies from the British Virgin Islands and from other places sailed into USVI marinas.

Among the incentives the Bryan Administration offered the private sector was legislation allowing hoteliers to use their room tax to revive and revamp their hotels as well as improvements or new hotel construction. Describing the incentive as “huge,” Bryan said Marriott Frenchman’s Reef on St. Thomas was expected to be operational by the end of the year, and planning for the return of the formerly Wyndham-flagged Sugar Bay was underway.

As for the pandemic’s effect on tourism, he said the numbers in other destinations indicate a sharp Omicron spike would be followed by declining numbers in February. “And that’s what’s happening, and we are starting to see our tourism picking back up once again.”

Bryan said the percentage of residents vaccinated was up to about 65 percent, “which isn’t that high, but is extremely high for the Caribbean where people have been resistant.” To overcome vaccination hesitancy in the territory, the government offered incentives, including $100,000 raffled every week, and giving people checks for $250.

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