A record number of cruise ship passengers are scheduled to visit the territory this year. Above, tourists take photos in front of a visiting ship in March. (File photo: DANA KAMPA)

Nearly half a million cruise ship tourists have already visited the territory this year, and their numbers are expected to continue climbing and set a record for 2023, according to Communications and Works Minister Kye Rymer.

Last Thursday in the House of Assembly, Mr. Rymer described a “remarkable surge in cruise passenger arrivals since the summer of 2021, signalling a robust recovery in the cruise tourism sector following the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The territory closed to cruise ships shortly after the pandemic was declared in March 2020.

The ban remained in effect until June 2021, after which the resurgence started slowly. In July 2021, just 650 passengers visited, followed by 299 that August, 516 that September, and 1,026 that October, according to the minister.

During the next two months, the numbers rose dramatically, to 22,388 and 47,263, respectively, for a total of 72,263 for 2021, Mr. Rymer said.

2022 and 2023 numbers

Last year, the territory again saw a “substantial increase” in cruise arrivals, “reflecting industry demand and a gradual return to pre-pandemic passenger capacity,” according to the minister. All told, 265,723 cruise passengers visited in 2022. This year, the numbers shot up to 492,481 arrivals by the end of August.

“Based on ongoing trends and projected estimates, the forecast indicates that passenger numbers are set to reach an impressive 794,489 during the upcoming tourism season,” Mr. Rymer said. “This figure surpasses the previous highest recorded cruise passenger arrival number in 2016, which is indicated as 699,105 passengers and is sourced from statistics provided by the Central Statistics Office.”

Mr. Rymer praised the industry for its quick return.

“These statistics highlight the cruise industry’s significance and robustness, not only for the Virgin Islands but also for our entire region, offering promising economic opportunities for job creation and the growth of local businesses,” he told the HOA.