Back in 2017, the United States Virgin Islands experienced two major hurricanes.
Both Category 5 storms, Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria blew through the islands just weeks apart, causing widespread damage and destruction to St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas, with extensive damage to St. Croix and its cruise port.
Then, just last week, the islands were struck again as Hurricane Dorian made its way through the eastern Caribbean. St. Thomas in particular took a direct hit by Dorian while the storm was still classified as a Category 1, and thankfully, no major damage was sustained.
Now, the destination is back with a renewed commitment to the Canadian market, with the majority of its smaller boutique hotels back up and running, and airlift into St. Croix at approximately 100 per cent.
Airlines & hotels bounce back
Nearly two years since both storms passed, the U.S.V.I has been working hard, refining its tourism product in order to welcome guests back once more.
"We don't have a flight from Air Canada yet, but we do have connections throughout the east coast to St. Thomas and St. Croix through New York, Newark, D.C., Philadelphia, and Charlotte," said USVI Commissioner of Tourism Joe Boschulte.
According to Boschulte, getting the Air Canada flight back is a top priority.
"Our high priority is to have conversations with Air Canada again to see if they can bring a direct flight from Toronto to the U.S. Virgin Islands; we've done outreach, and we are very comfortable having conversations," Boschulte said. "We have a marketing budget that can help Air Canada, or any airline from the north to implement direct service."
One of the U.S.V.I's high-end hotels, the Ritz Carlton, is back online as of December, and bookings are extremely high, Boschulte says. Another key hotel property, the Frenchman's Reef, formerly a Marriott property, is expected to come back online in 2020.
Two major hotels in St. Croix, the Renaissance (under the Marriott brand), and the Divi hotel, are both expected to be back online and open for bookings once more by mid to late 2020. St. John, St. Thomas, and St. Croix are all home to a spectacular amount of boutique hotels, too.
"People are anxious to come back to the territory, and anxious to get back to that luxury feel," Boschulte said.
St. Croix: the hidden gem
This year, the U.S.V.I tourism board is taking a different approach to its marketing campaign, and will position St. Croix as what it calls a "hidden gem".
"Right now, most people know St. Thomas and St. John, particularly on the cruise side, but St. Croix is really known for its people, its culture, and most of all, its food," Boschulte explained.
The U.S.V.I is also examining different kinds of tourism, including through the agricultural sector, which has begun focusing on the possibility of promoting cannabis tourism through the islands. As an overseas territory of the United States, U.S.V.I is currently subject to federal law, however, U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. did approve a medical marijuana law for the islands earlier this year, which could potentially open up a new tourism market.
From a cruise standpoint, Boschulte says that St. Thomas is about 90 per cent recovered from the damage caused by Irma and Maria in 2017, stating that St. Thomas was among the first to welcome ships back to port post-storm, which significantly boosted the recovery process.
According to Boschulte, there are currently discussions to bring a third cruise port, that would be able to service the larger Oasis-class ships. St. Thomas can currently support five ships, and St. Croix can handle two ships.
This year, St. Thomas expects to welcome 1.4 million cruise passengers, which is down about 20 per cent, as a result of hurricanes shifting tourism traffic.
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