Tourism Skyrockets in the USVI

Tourism Skyrockets in the USVI

Good Morning!  I hope that you all had a great weekend and that your work week is off to a great start this morning!  Earlier this month, Caribbean Journal reported on the crazy high (comparatively speaking) tourism numbers in the US Virgin Islands.  With bargain basement flights available, our borders fully open to American visitors and many of our sister islands remaining “closed” or requiring mandatory quarantines, its no wonder.  USVI is one of the very few “paradise” destinations currently accessible to American visitors who are anxious to get out and travel after being cooped up for nearly a year.

While the greater Caribbean region felt the crushing effects of the pandemic on its economy, the USVI, who has been leading the region in re-opening protocols, has been successfully rebounding from the 2020 decrease in travelers.  Carib Journal reported that the territory felt less of an impact during 2020 than many of its sister islands in the region.

The US Virgin Islands welcomed 415,749 air arrivals in 2020; while that was a 35.1 percent reduction compared to 2019, it was a far smaller decline than the 65.5 percent visitor decline the wider Caribbean saw last year.

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And, despite the territory shutting down its hotels and accommodations for much of last year in lieu of the ability to close the federally operated airports to non-essential travelers, occupancy rates felt much less of an impact than lodging options in neighboring areas.

Accordingly, the USVI’s hotel occupancy declined by 29.1 percent, compared to a 52.5 percent reduction for the wider region.

And now, with the territory pretty much back in full swing and a “major increase in airlift in recent months…buoyed by robust visitor arrivals.”  We are seeing a whole new wave of visitors on St. John.  Many of whom have never been to the territory.  If I may add some personal experience to this statistic, I would say that about 70% of the guests we have taken out on Asante this winter booked last minute with an airline deal and have never before visited the USVI.

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So, what does all of that mean for St. John?  Well, it means that there isn’t much available in the way of rental cars, last minute lodging, boat bookings, dining options AND the patience of folks who live and work on island.  Ha!  A while back, I posted on this topic but I’m going to reiterate a few things here that will hopefully help you more fully enjoy your stay…And be welcomed back next time with open arms and smiling faces!

  1.  BEFORE YOU BOOK THAT AIRFARE DEAL – If you are not picky about where you stay (St. Thomas or St. John), then go ahead and click go on your transportation before checking out accommodations.  If St. John is a must, put the airfare on hold and find a place to stay before booking that discounted flight.  There are A TON of people all over the Facebook groups right now who have booked their airfare without checking into lodging first.  I spoke with someone just yesterday who owns a villa here that is booked SOLID through next year.  Book your stay, then your flight
  2. BOOK YOUR RENTAL CAR ASAP-  Rental cars are sold out on St. John months in advance at this point.  Check this list and start calling around as soon as you know your dates.  Please try to refrain from renting a vehicle on St. Thomas.  With our parking lots and roadways filled traffic, bringing a rental from St. Thomas will only add to the problem.  Also, maybe contemplate not even renting a car!  Parking is insane everywhere on island…Both at the beaches and in town.  Skip the hassle and make friends with a taxi driver that can be your go-to for the week.
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    Overflowing parking lots can be a hassle…Consider a taxi instead of a rental!


  3. Don’t expect to walk into your favorite restaurant and get a table.  We can’t even get a seat at our favorite spots locally…We finally got to dine at the Longboard the other night for the first time in months (And it was glorious :)).  If you know the spots you would like to visit, check their social media pages for info on how they are handling their seatings and/or call ahead to book.  By call ahead, I mean a few weeks ahead.  Not the day before.  I had some guests the other day who were looking for dinner options and I had to call seven different restaurants to find them a table! 
    Tourism Skyrockets in the USVI 4
    Accommodations and boats are booking up fast! Make sure to lock in your reservations for boats, beds and dining ahead of time!


  4. Be Kind-  The folks who are waiting on you in restaurants, taking you out on boats, serving you an iced coffee, have been getting their booties kicked for months with no end in sight.  Off season?  Likely not this year!  And we are all grateful for the business, but I can see the tired in my friends’ eyes.  Be patient and friendly and chat them up if they have the time!  Also, one thing that many people have noticed recently is extremely low tip percentages.  In almost a decade of working fine dining on island, I can tell you that 20% has ultimately been the norm.  Not this year.  Many folks have reported 12-15% being more of an average.  I know everyone is paying a lot to be here, but when you go to pay your tab, think about what might be the cost of living on St. John.  At the end of the day, that extra 3-5% on the tip average means A LOT!  If you feel like you have been well taken care of, please reciprocate 🙂 
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    Be Kind to the staff! They are simply the messengers but they come bearing cold beverages!


  5. Respect the Environment-  We were in Christmas Cove the other day with some guests and I was APPALLED at what I was seeing.  There was a large catamaran with dozens of guests in the water and a lot of them were standing on the reefs, climbing on the rocks IN THEIR FLIPPERS and generally just stomping all over our under the sea wonderland.  I’ll admit, the captain of their boat didn’t seem to care and if they were given the “safety talk” before getting in the water, they obviously weren’t listening.  But between being concerned for both their safety and that of the marine life, it was all I could do to keep from yelling across at them myself.  Don’t be that guy/girl.  Keep your feet afloat when snorkeling and please refrain from standing on the reef or sea grass beds.
    Tourism Skyrockets in the USVI 6
    Five simple ways to protect the Marine Life!


  6. Buy your ferry tickets in advance.  Skip the crazy lines at the terminal and purchase your tickets online.  The tickets are good for ten days and you don’t need to select a time.  So, you can show up with a ticket in hand and not miss the boat because you are waiting in the ticket line!  Oh, and don’t forget to add on for your bags 🙂
    Tourism Skyrockets in the USVI 7
    Book your ferry ticket in advance!


  7. There is still a territory wide mask mandate in place.  Please be prepared to mask up in public spaces, on public transportation and in all places of business.
  8. If you are fully vaccinated, you still need to get a negative COVID-19 test or a positive antibody test and upload it to the travel portal in order to board your flight to the territory.  I posted some tips on using the portal two weeks ago here.

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I hope that these tips and tricks prove to be helpful.  I do so love seeing so many people here, falling in love with St. John for the first time.  We cannot be upset with someone who doesn’t know any better so its up to those of us who are following along to spread the good information.  We all need to work together to ensure St. John’s beauty (and the sanity of her residents Ha!) for the years to come and to educate the newcomers so that they might do the same.

15 thoughts on “Tourism Skyrockets in the USVI”

  1. I think that you should have said something to the people in Christmas Cove stomping on the coral. The captain of their boat was obviously a moron and if he allows this type of behavior day after day, your beautiful island will be ruined.

  2. Thanks so much for your lists of car rental companies and ferry schedules. Is it possible you could create a list of STJ restaurants with numbers and hours, plus days they are closed? I know it’s a lot of work, but it would really help. Thanks.

  3. Good Day Hillary,

    I read with interest your observations with the new visitors. It is dangerous to generalize, however I agree with both your observations and your comments / suggestions.

    East End has been under assault for over a year now by visiting boats of all kinds as well as many local charter boats. Their total disregard for marine life (which is if out of site I suspect is out of mind) is totally being decimated. This is being documented daily by concerned citizens because there is NO enforcement. The very thing that draws the boaters and their patrons / charters will be gone very soon. We will be left with a destroyed eco system in the name of marine tourism which I call marine terrorism.

    This is not to say that there are not responsible boat captains and charter boats, but the majority are reckless and indifferent to those that live here (including the marine life that lived here long before we all walked this earth.)

    The last comment about your article is safety. It is only a matter of time before you are reporting about a tragic accident occurring in Round Bay / Hansen Bay involving boats, alcohol and irresponsible participants.

    I implore our visitors and residents to protect what has been gifted to us and take responsibility for your actions. Take the high road please.

  4. Like me Americans switched their vacations to USVI because they do not want to be tested to return home from foreign island.

  5. I am so happy St John is doing so well but I feel sad that there are so many “newbies”. I don’t want the island to become another touristic attraction with morons ( and we saw them last time we were there , lifting turtles up in the air and tossing them to each other in a group, sickening) not knowing what needs to keep a beautiful private island beautiful. We’ve been visiting for 20+ plus years and we used go on a beach and it was deserted. Pelicans swoop down and out and come to visit us.
    Probably being selfish but if too many people visit it will very quickly loose it’s charm and just become another Caribbean island . 🙂
    Maybe we can stop promoting Maho Bay and letting the “cruisers” stay in town and the regulars go to some of the better restaurants.

    • Pam,
      next time you see something like that, please call park rangers at 866-995-8467. They will come over and ticket these morons.

  6. My husband & I have been going to STJ every year since 1991 and sometimes twice a year. I fear the very thing that we fell in love w/ is being changed for the bad. We started seeing it when they built the scar on the hill. Still sad every time I see it coming in on the ferry. Maho is no longer our favorite spot. I can’t even imagine seeing people doing that to a turtle. I would’ve lost my mind & mouth on them. We love the people & island so much, we even taught our son their way of respect. He still says “Miss Myrtle and Mr. Curtis when he talks to adults & he’s now 21. This will be our 40th trip in May & we are bringing him again on his 23rd trip. I pray he still wants to come back and bring his friends, family. St. John & it’s people have given & taught us a lot. We don’t want to go any where else. Hopefully they will open BVI soon to lessen the crowds.

  7. Thank you non-residents for writing of your love for St John, and how even YOU are noticing and REGRETTING the changes in the past few years. This IS a different type of Caribbean island, where families and campers, and nature-lovers came for peace and beauty, were interested in the local culture, and respect was given and received back. People got along. Then, ‘bigger and better’ snuck in, then making money instead of sharing and simplicity became the focus, and now our Tourism Department is encouraging even more growth, asking for more ‘entertainment’ for visitors, turning what was lovely into what is becoming tacky. We need concerned and returning guests like you to register your dismay alongside ours, FaceBook seems to be the only outlet right now. But please, add your voice to ours so that we grow in only in proportion to what we can handle. It is the nature, the pristine, the too-fast dwindling ecological marvels that we most want TO SHARE with you. You must understand you don’t really pay all that money to come here to see more parking lots, charmless and too big buildings for size of island, culture being disrespected and ignored, tranquility being abused. We want to show you what stole our hearts enough to move here. Help us keep St John, St John for us ALL.

    • Thank you Judith. You said everything I was thinking. I can not imagine what it must be like on STJ right now. It’s beauty is only outweighed by the great people who live there. It must be horrifying to see (and live with) the changes that are happening. Oh if only things could be like they were 30 years ago when I discovered paradise!

      I will do my part.

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