Tourism predicts strong 2013 season


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ST. THOMAS - Tourist arrivals were down this summer compared to 2011, mostly because of fewer cruise ship calls.

However, with six ships in the St. Thomas Harbor on Wednesday, Tourism Department officials are looking forward to a busy season and say more ship calls are planned for next summer as well.

The V.I. Economic Research Bureau this week released its July and August tourism indicators, which showed visitor arrivals are falling.

In July, visitor arrivals fell 4.1 percent compared with July 2011.

In August, arrivals were down 11.2 percent compared with the August before.

"It's due to a decline in cruise ship passengers," V.I. Tourism spokeswoman Allegra Kean-Moorehead said.

In July, the number of ship calls fell from 28 the year before to 24 - resulting in about 11,000 fewer passengers territorywide.

In August, ship calls dropped from 29 to 23, resulting in 19,642 fewer cruise ship passengers visiting the territory compared with August 2011.

Air arrivals were up in July and August compared with the previous summer, but it was not enough to offset the decrease in cruise ship activity.

Despite upticks in air traffic and hotel stays, the tourism economy is fueled by the success or failure of the cruise industry in the local market.

"The outlook is pretty strong for the coming season, both on St. Thomas and St. Croix," Kean-Moorehead said.

On St. Croix, 55 cruise ships will visit the island. The number of calls is two fewer than in the previous year, but the ships that are coming are larger and will bring more passengers and crew, according to the Tourism Department.

"And nine of those are visiting St. Croix for the first time," Kean-Moorehead said.

The fact that cruise lines are adding St. Croix to their regular itineraries is "very promising," she said.

The larger-size ships include Royal Caribbean's Jewel of the Seas, Brilliance of the Seas, Vision of the Seas, Enchantment of the Seas, and Celebrity Cruise Line's Eclipse.

The Jewel of the Seas is scheduled to call on St. Croix seven times in the summer months in 2013, bringing as many as 17,500 total passengers and about 6,000 total crew during a traditionally slow period.

St. Croix also will have three days this season - Dec. 17, Dec. 31 and Feb. 22 - when two ships will be docked at Abramson Pier.

"We continue to work diligently to build brand awareness for St. Croix to increase both cruise and land-based arrivals," Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty said in a written statement. "In the face of these challenging economic times, cruise arrivals are a welcome opportunity to showcase the best of St. Croix and encourage visitors to return for extended overnight stays."

During the last few years, the territory has seen cruise lines pull their ships out of the Caribbean in the summer months - repositioning them in other regions, such as the Mediterranean or Alaska - at least some ships will be returning next summer.

"If the cruise lines reposition even one or two ships, that might not seem like a lot, but it does impact us, because that can translate into multiple calls throughout the summer," Kean-Moorehead said.

West Indian Co. President and Chief Executive Officer Joseph Boschulte said that the schedules are looking very good for 2013 and 2014 - especially in the summer.

He said cruise lines go where the revenue is, and Carnival in particular is looking to reposition ships it had in the European market back to the Caribbean for the summers of 2013 and 2014.

"We show an increase of six or seven calls in the summer months, up from this past summer," Boschulte said.

The current season, which seemed to get a good start Wednesday, will have more ships and more passengers compared with last year, Boschulte said. In the summer, he expects to see "double digit" increases in calls.

"So all in all, it's moving in a direction that is good for WICO and good for the territory as a whole," he said.

Hotels

According to the Economic Research Bureau indicators, hotel occupancy was down in July and up slightly in August.

Hotels reported an occupancy rate of 45.7 percent in July compared with 51.7 percent last year.

In August, occupancy rates rose 1.9 percentage points - 62,828 hotel guests stayed in August 2011 compared with 64,732 in August 2012.

The length of stay also seems to be increasing.

In August 2011, the average guest stayed 5.3 nights. In August 2012, that stay rose to an average of 6.2 nights.

The August figures, coupled with a recent 2 percent increase in the hotel occupancy tax, moved hotel revenues up 110 percent over August 2011 - going from $886,000 to about $1.8 million.

- Contact Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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