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WINNING UGLY: The USVI Topped The Caribbean In Visits During July, But What Does That Say About Region In General?

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Be careful what you wish for … you might just get it.

In April of 2019, Governor Albert Bryan said that the U.S. Virgin Islands would “position” itself as the number one tourist destination in the Caribbean.

At the time, Bryan’s “projection” seemed almost laughable because the year before — the number one tourism destination in the region was the Dominican Republic with 6,187,542 visitors — while the USVI reported just 874,094 visitors in 2018 and was in seventh place in the region.

The other five destinations ahead of the territory were: Cuba with 4,700,000 visitors in 2018, Jamaica with 2,352,915 visitors in 2018, Puerto Rico with 1,672,707 visitors in 2018, the Bahamas with1,335,933 visitors in 2018 and Aruba 1,070,548 visitors in 2018.

Then along came COVID-19 in December of 2019. The nearby British Virgin Islands shut down altogether once the coronavirus pandemic hit — including its valuable seaports where the BVI dominated the USVI in charter boat visits by at least 10 to 1 — for decades. Not so fast after COVID-19, though.

And the U.S. Virgin Islands was one of the first places in the Caribbean to reopen during the pandemic. Now it’s leading the region’s tourism comeback.

St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix — buoyed by its class-leading Travel Screening Portal — was the top performing destination in the Caribbean in July, compared to the same period in 2019. 

Indeed, the US Virgin Islands’ July arrivals were 106.3 percent higher than July 2019, before the pandemic, according to data from ForwardKeys shared by the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association. 

That was followed by Puerto Rico, which saw nearly 40 percent growth in July compared to July 2019. 

It’s a testament to what has been one of the region’s model re-openings, with a strong policy that from the outset was meant to “manage” the virus, according to Tourism Commissioner Joseph Boschulte. 

The US Virgin Islands is joined by several destinations seeing numbers ahead of those recorded prior to the pandemic, according to Vanessa Ledesma, CEO of the CHTA. 

That includes Puerto Rico, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Aruba and The Bahamas. 

That’s not a surprise, Ledesma said, given expanded airline routes from major U.S. markets to those destinations. 

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The U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico were the only two destinations showing an increased in revenue per available room in the Caribbean, Ledesma said. 

It’s added up to a very strong year for the U.S. Virgin Islands, which was named Caribbean Destination of the Year in the 2021 Caribbean Travel Awards in January. 

“Caribbean’s recovery strategies and actions will continue to include: advancing health safety initiatives, building trade and traveler confidence, advancing better tour operator policies, advancing regional collaboration to support tourism’s recovery, making the case for travel with key international markets, and advocating for jurisdictional and regional policies supporting recovery,” the CHTA said. 

For more on how to visit the US Virgin Islands, see here.

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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