Calm down! Hotel tax rate hike is only from 8% to 10%

The Governor is proposing to increase the hotel tax 25 percent, the first increase since 1993.

The current rate is 8 percent. It is levied on all villa, condo, and hotel accomodations and generally passed along directly to visitors. The new rate would be 10 percent and extended to also include timeshare rentals.

All funds will be applied to the territory’s Tourism Advertising Revolving Fund which is used by the Department of Tourism to implement marketing and advertising campaigns to attract visitors.

“It is essential that we take the necessary steps to level the playing field for attracting visitors to our islands,” said Commissioner Nicholson-Doty.  “By leaving our room tax rate unchanged over the last 17 years, we have placed ourselves at a competitive disadvantage for marketing the destination while other destinations have adjusted to meet market conditions and have outspent the U.S. Virgin Islands."

By comparison, some nightly room tax rates in other destinations are markedly higher. Puerto Rico's is 24%, the Dominican Republic is 15%, and the Bahamas is 10%.

Progress at the Westin

Repairs and improvements necessitated by the winds of Tropical Storm Otto are coming along nicely, according to St. John's Gerald Singer.

On his St. John Life blog, Singer reports reconstruction of the Westin's huge pool is done.  "The pool is refilled, cleaned and resurfaced," he says.

New surfaces are being laid down on the tennis courts; that job is half done. And the Beach Cafe has reopened.

  • Singer's St. John Life blog is here

New Miami-like boutique hotel for Cruz Bay

Denise-david What's a nice couple like this doing in a place like St. John?

Living the dream.

David Guidi and Denise Walker, a couple of transplanted Canadians, say that's what is behind their decision to develop an old downtown convenience store building into the Cruz Bay Boutique Hotel. Opening day is about three weeks away.

The hotel has six guest rooms and a penthouse suite.  It is in the same building which used to house Oscar's store and is now also home to Da Livio Italian Ristorante.

With a background in real estate construction and hotel management,the Guidis oversaw renovation of the building this year.

"Blending chic Miami boutique hotel decor with the more casual style of an island villa," said David Guidi. "The result is a clean, simple, yet elegant venue." About-hotel-1

Rates start at $175 a night during the winter season.  A modest Continental breakfast is included.

"We've travelled to St John numerous times over the past 10 years, and got married here in 2009," David explained. "One thing that always stuck out in our minds is that accommodation on the island is expensive, and there is a severe shortage of good, affordable in-town options."

Cabaret comes to Caneel Bay

Beech_on_beach St. John's favorite cabaret singer will be crooning all winter long at the Turtle Bay Estate House at the Caneel Bay Resort

Marty Beech will be playing piano and singing during suppers Wednesday through Sunday evenings beginning next Thursday, Nov. 18.

His playlist has a bit of everything for everybody, but there's an emphasis on Old Blue Eyes. "My repertoire features jazz standards, especially the music of Frank Sinatra, from romantic ballads to up-tempo swing tunes," Beech said. "I also cover a variety of other styles such as classic rock, soul/R&B, blues, reggae and country."

He came to the island a dozen years ago.  Beech and his wife, Cathy, and kids wanted to "follow a different course," he said.  Since then the kids grew up and Beech is still singing. "I love what I do and I am grateful to have such a wonderful venue on the best little island in the Caribbean," he said of his Caneel Bay opportunity. You may have heard him singing at various restaurants on the island over the years, recently including Ocean Grill at Mongoose Junction.

While he sings at night, during the daytime Beech is a broker for Islandia Real Estate. "As of today the St. John MLS has $516 million worth of property listed for sale," he said. "I think the best we can hope for in the immediate future (for real estate) is slow but steady growth.  The bubble was exciting but not so healthy long term," he said, adding "Right now there is no plan to quit my night job."

He has recorded one CD, Summer Wind, featuring a standards and Sinatra tunes.  Listen to it – and buy it – at http://cdbaby.com/cd/beech

Steel drum artist making music in DC, Illinois

Victor Provost is making a name for himself in the states.  The St. John-born steelpan/steel drum musician is appearing weekly at a DC restaurant and he'll be the featured artist next week in concert at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, Ill.

With appearances at the DC Jazz Festival, The Kennedy Center, Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola (Jazz at Lincoln Center), the Umbria Jazz Festival, Pure Jazz Den Haag, and at major venues throughout North America, the Caribbean and Europe, Provost has been developing quite a reputation  with his instrumental talent and improvisational voice and style.

Provost left St. John 12 years ago. His family still lives in Fish Bay. Besides performing, he works with the Cultural Academy for Excellence, a steelpan music education program in Bowie, Md. and also teaches private lessons.

For a taste of his steelpan music, click on the video above.  There's plenty more on his Web site here.

Blue Tang: #2 and proud of it!

Longtime readers know that News of St. John began as a not-so-subtle effort to encourage rentals of our home on the island.  There's a lot of competition for rentals and I thought the site would help.  It has. It is the oldest and largest Web site with news about St. John.

Ext_day_pool So it was with surprise and gratitude that, while mousing around TripAdvisor.com the other day, I found that Blue Tang was ranked as the #2 most popular rental on the island, with a 4 1/2 out of 5 stars ranking, too.  Shocked … thankful … happy.

Blue Tang ranked so well because of the reviews people who have stayed at the house were kind enough to post.  A few of their comments:

  • "A peaceful, relaxing, romantic honeymoon at Blue Tang."
  • "Blue Tang rocks."
  • "Best vacation we've ever taken."
  • "Awesome views and location."

I have to admit that each time we visit Blue Tang and read through the Guest Books, we are often moved to tears at the kind things people say about the house as they recount the wonderful time they had on the island and at our place.

If you're headed for St. John, I hope you'll consider our home, too.

Frank Barnako, aka The Inquiring Iguana

New Yorker criticizes Maho Bay room service

You can't make this stuff up.

A guest at the Maho Bay Camps blasted the eco-resort on Yelp

Vasyl F. of Rego Park, New York said, "This is the worst hotel I've ever stayed in."

The Queens borough resident said the description of Maho he read on Expedia.com did not meet his expectations.

"No ocean view rooms … and no mountain view … they charge even to lock your door … tents are 30 years old and leaking, and cracks in the floors are so wide that cockroaches and lizards are flooding the dwelling. Restaurant is extremely dirty and the food is all from cans and is made in China."

As for being an 'eco-resort," Vasyl said, "They just don't repair the hotel and don't clean the territory, besides all their furniture, tables, plates, glasses and many more things are made of cheap toxic plastic which is definitely not eco-friendly."

In rebuttal, anyone who knows anything about Maho Bay also knows that Vasyl's expectations were way off the mark.  But, he may not be alone, given what The Inquiring Iguana found when he slithered to Expedia's Maho entry.

For starters, Maho describes itself as a three star "Coral Bay hotel with a private beach."  Misleading, some could say. The Expedia description of Maho is also, shall we say, 'generous.'

Maho's 'amenities' are listed (see below), suggesting the rustic resort, with accommodations from $80/night, could compete with villas. (It's the Select Comfort mattress that really caught The Iguana's attention.)

AmenitiesThe Iguana understands how Expedia wants Maho to present itself in the best light.  But, he also wonders how a smart guy from Queens could make the assumption that he was staying a a luxury-like hotel when the Expedia site reservation screen offers "tent cottage."  That's a pretty good clue to what he's going to get.

  • Vasyl F.'s review of Maho Bay on Yelp is here.
  • Maho Bay on Expedia is here.

Stay in a villa for a week … Free!

Bluetang A free week at a Catered To … Vacation Homes villa will be awarded in December to a lucky entrant in a contest sponsored by The St. John Treasure Map and Guide.

To enter, people use the guide to complete a treasure hunt by visiting various advertisers business, naturally.  When they do that, and solve a riddle, they become eligible to win.  Catered To is one of five villa companies which advertise on the Map. There was a drawing and they 'won.'  They also get a free ad on the guide next year.

Hey, play your cards right – and that free week for four might be at Blue Tang (a Catered To-managed villa).

Hurricane video shot on a boat in Cruz Bay

Earl A couple of clips of Hurricane Earl's visit to St. John showed up on YouTube this morning. Thankfully, this is all old news.

Most were posted by "walshrmgmail," who, it appears, was on a boat in Cruz Bay harbor, shooting video as the storm began.