Officials assessing impact of Coki murders on V.I. tourism


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ST. THOMAS — As the story of Coki Point’s deadly shooting explodes in the national media, V.I. Tourism Department officials continue to assess the damage the incident may cause the territory’s prime industry.

The most immediate damage will be felt by Coral World Ocean Park and the Coki beach vendors as major cruise lines continue to cancel their Coki Point shore excursions out of concern for their passengers’ safety.

On Monday, a gun battle during a burial service at Coki Point Cemetery left local 18-year-old Shahid Joseph and visiting 14-year-old Liz Marie Pérez Chaparro dead. Liz Marie was traveling on board the Carnival Victory with her family and was sitting in a safari taxi near Coki beach when she was struck by a stray bullet.

The shootout occurred in the middle of the day near Coki beach and Coral World — both of which were crowded with tourists at the time.

News of the incident has been spreading on travel sites and Twitter feeds, and the story was reported by CNN and posted on several national media websites by Tuesday. A Google search showed versions of the story were available on about 230 news websites and blogs at presstime today.

Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty said Tuesday that she has not yet received any national English language media requests for interviews. However, because Liz Marie was from Puerto Rico, Nicholson-Doty said she was contacted by Telemundo and El Nuevo Dia and spoke to reporters at those news organizations Tuesday.

After the shooting Monday, Carnival Cruise Lines announced that it was cancelling all shore excursions to the Coki Point area. On Tuesday, Princess Cruises — also owned by Carnival’s parent company — followed suit. Calls to Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines were not returned Tuesday. 

Trudie Prior, president and general manager of Coral World, said the news of the cancellations could not have come at a worse time. Because of the recession, Coral World has lost $1 million in each of the last two years, Prior said.

“We have been struggling, and we are on the brink now,” she said.

She said the aquarium simply cannot survive any additional decline in revenues.

“We’ve lost several attractions in the last couple of years, most recently the Butterfly Farm, and my concern is that Coral World may not be far behind,” Prior said.

Nicholson-Doty said she and Police Commissioner Novelle Francis Jr. are scheduled to meet with all major cruise lines Friday. The meeting is being facilitated by the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association. 

She said they will primarily be providing information to the cruise lines and answering questions. The two commissioners will share their enhanced safety and security plans and the territory’s crisis management plan and give an update on the local investigation of the crime.

The commissioner said she contacted local hotel partners and tour operators, as well as national industry partners and travel agents Tuesday.

“We are certainly reaching out to our stakeholders, to ensure that they know what Tourism is doing and that they know that we are all in this together,” she said.

Nicholson-Doty said the Tourism Department’s contracted public relations firm, M. Booth and Associates, is monitoring all electronic, print and broadcast news for mention of the Coki Point shooting.

“Over the next few days, we’re going to complete the assessment, then meet with our advertising and PR agencies and see how we may adjust our marketing strategy as needed,” Nicholson-Doty said.

She said the department is providing updates on their crisis management website, www.usviupdate.com, for the travel industry and media.

Tuesday, the department spent time working with their 24-hour live call center — 1-800-372-USVI — to make sure the agents have the information they need to field calls from concerned travelers, Nicholson-Doty said.

 Calls to the center also will be monitored, she said. There have not been any such calls yet, but Nicholson-Doty said those kinds of calls typically do not begin until about a week after a disaster or crisis.

She said the department is working around the clock to control damage to the territory’s image and economy — which is based heavily on tourism.

“We are going to learn from the experience, and we believe that we will improve our systems as a result,” Nicholson-Doty said.

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