I have tried my hardest to keep you all up to date on travel trends, advisories, on island pointers and increases in traffic on St. John over the past few months. Starting in about February, it started to BOOM here with little reprieve from tourism traffic since then. And, it does not look like its going to let up any time soon. I read two very interesting articles this morning and wanted to share a bit of the information with you about what to expect here on St. John in the coming months.
First, I want to say that the increased traffic has been a great blessing for small business owners, resident workers and new start ups on St. John. We were JUST bouncing back from the 2017 hurricanes when the pandemic shut us down. In 2019 it felt kind of normal again and then a few months into 2020, the drawbridge was up and everyone was out of work. Now, I can list at least ten places off the top of my head that are aggressively hiring, everyone has a bit of money in the bank and new businesses that opened towards the end of the pandemic are thriving. So, that’s all fantastic. If you know anyone who is out of work down here, send them this way and I’ll find them three jobs. Ha!
All of that being said, I know many of you have expressed some frustration with the amount of traffic that has been rolling through. St. John is a very different island than it was even nine years ago when I moved here. Growth is happening in neighborhoods and small towns all over the country and we are not isolated from that. But, I do think that this craziness we are seeing right now has much to do with the travel trends brought on by the pandemic and international locations keeping their borders closed. For example, our bays and beaches are FULL. Imagine if a quarter of the tourism population were instead on a day trip or term charter to the BVI for a part of their stay here…It maybe wouldn’t feel so overwhelming then I think. Open up BVI! Help us out over here. 🙂
So, onto the new information. A TripAdvisor article from last month that was written based on data compiled by first party data collection on the site and a consumer sentiment survey ranked locations in the Virgin Islands in three of the top ten spots in a list entitled “Ten Fastest Growing Destinations for Americans.” For a nation of people who have been pretty much on lock down for about a year and international destinations still holding their fair share of hurdles for travelers, it’s no wonder that sunny, ocean side US destinations are soaring in popularity. US cities that are typically popular travel stops are seemingly going to be slower to bounce back from this recession.
While we generally see an influx in spring break traffic from early March through about mid-April, the Trip Advisor survey reports that 50% of travelers plan to visit these sandy destinations on a Spring trip between March 31 and May 31. Based on this and what I know in regards to bookings and reservations on island, I would imagine the traffic on St. John MAY die down a little bit through late April and early May but get back into full swing once the kiddos are out of school for the summer.
Another article from Skift, published on April 9, 2021, offers an in-depth look at a lot of the increased travel in the territory. And what the VI Economic Development Authority (EDA) is doing to shift away from the reliance on this industry that can be so unpredictable in the event of a natural disaster or global pandemic.
Last month, I reported on the decreased numbers of travel across the Caribbean in 2020. The USVI has fared much better than her sister islands in the region with the territory keeping its head above water for most of the shut down. With the exception of 4-5 months, we were able to remain open to tourism and keep our businesses moving…If even at a slower pace. But, with vaccinations being distributed across the Caribbean and other islands’ governments slowly catching up in order to re-open to visitors, the upcoming winter season may see us settling down to more “normal” levels of busy. In the meantime, USVI Tourism Commissioner Joseph Boschulte told the publication that marketing efforts are beefing up to promote summer travel.
For the first time in years, the U.S. Virgin Islands ranks at the top in terms of Caribbean travel demand, from load factor to revenue per available room and occupancy.
Given the predicted blockbuster summer ahead for the US leisure traveler, USVI would take advantage of its foothold in tourism recovery to market aggressively for the 2021-2022 winter season. Boschulte said that the rest of the Caribbean region was likely to be more fully open than it is now by the winter season, signaling competition ahead for the USVI. – Skift Article, April 9, 2021
The Department of Tourism currently has ongoing in-person marketing activities in Texas and plans to begin the same in the northeast in the coming months.
In understanding that a major natural event this fall or the increase in competition as more destinations open could impair the USVI economy once again, the EDA has shifted its focus to promote a more sustainable economy in the territory. In its new future economic strategy (Also known as Vision 2040), the department lists tourism, which makes up 60% of our gross annual income, as last on the docket. “Tourism is listed last among future goals that otherwise focus on agriculture, blue economy, healthcare and renewable energy, among others,” the article says.
With the absence of Cruise Ships, $1.4 million dollars is missing from the USVI’s annual income…leading the territory to hone in on overnight guests and marine travelers. Cruise ship guests may represent a large volume of guests but dollars spent don’t necessarily make it worth the impact.
The plan revealed that day trippers represented 80 percent of tourists to USVI with only 37 percent of expenditures, whereas longer-stay tourists accounted for 20 percent of visitors and 63 percent of revenue. As a result, the USVI plans to push for a more sustainable tourism model focusing on experiential tourism and long term travelers. – Skift Article, April 9, 2021
So, less people and environmental impact and more money spent here. Win, win!
In Governor Bryan’s press conference last week, he stressed the focus on the “blue economy” and making improvements to accessibility for boaters….and for creating jobs within that sector. I personally think this is great news, pending some of those jobs they create are in enforcement of the marine rules and boaters’ responsibilities.
A focus on agriculture and renewable energy is also a HUGE positive and has been at the forefront of community discussions for as long as I can remember. If we had access to power and locally grown foods after Hurricane Irma, we may have been in a much more comfortable position in her aftermath. Either of these focus areas will help St. John to create more jobs that also make her a little more sustainable when visitors simply can’t get here.
If you are interested in reading more about the Vision 2040 plan for the USVI, their website is an amazing rabbit hole to dive into! I will definitely be doing some more updates in the future now that I have happened upon it!
Vision 2040 was created from an interactive, participatory process and is the long-term economic strategy and action plan for the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Plan positions the Territory as a vibrant, desirable place to live, work, and visit, and as a prosperous business location that is competitive based on its abilities to develop, retain, and attract a skilled workforce that has creativity and imagination.