Though the financial services sector is the leading provider of government revenue, tourism is the industry that has been getting the most attention from election candidates on the campaign trail.

While they might interpret each other’s records of accomplishment differently and have varying policies they want to apply to the territory’s tourism industry, most candidates generally seem to agree on the major areas of concern.

Party’s plans

“The biggest problem to me is that we need to promote the destination much more,” Opposition Leader Dr. Orlando Smith said during a Sept. 30 forum at H. Lavity Stoutt Community College. “And once we have promoted the destination, we need to have airlift to the country so that tourists can get here, and then we’ve got … to make sure that when people come here, they’ve got things to do.”

Dr. Smith also highlighted items on his party’s tourism to-do list: cleaning up the territory, raising hotel standards, improving tourism infrastructure and training young people to be service-oriented.

Irene Penn O’Neal announced a similar list of priorities when she unveiled the Virgin Island’s Party’s “seven-point plan” for tourism at the campaign launch of Julian Fraser (R-D3) on Saturday. Amidst promises to help small villa owners, encourage environmental protection of natural areas and launch a tourism apprenticeship programme for young people, Ms. Penn O’Neal said the party would encourage more investment in the sector.

“We will engage and facilitate more investment in tourism plans and infrastructure,” she said. “We intend to publish a clear and fair investment policy securing the opportunity and responsibilities of investors, both local and foreign.”


Ms. Penn O’Neal also said the party aims to increase sea- and air-passenger traffic to the territory, though like Dr. Smith, she didn’t detail in her speech how the planned port and airport improvements would be funded.

“We will be expanding the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport and putting the Airlift Committee to work hard in getting more flights to the territory,” she said.

The airport’s runway is currently 4,642 feet long, but that length is insufficient to accommodate Boeing-737 aircraft and other planes that can fly directly from the United States mainland, candidates have said.

In August, Denniston Fraser, managing director of the BVI Airports Authority, said the government is currently considering five options to expand the airport, the longest of which would extend the runway to 8,694 feet and costs millions of dollars.

Proponents of expansion have long argued that direct flights from the US mainland are needed to make the territory more accessible and boost tourism. Detractors have questioned whether demand would support a significant number of direct flights from the mainland US, even if the runway were lengthened.

Many candidates who have addressed the issue have at least guardedly supported an airport expansion.

Some, however, have qualified that sentiment. At the Sept. 30 debate, Deputy Premier Dancia Penn, the VIP’s Eighth District candidate, said government should consult with residents before making a decision. Shaina Smith, an at-large candidate with the newly formed People’s Patriotic Alliance, said before officials determine whether the runway should be expanded, BVI Tourist Board officials should consider which visitor markets it wants to go after and develop a specific plan.

“Some people are saying, ‘Let’s go to Asia, let’s go to Brazil, let’s go to Central America.’ But it’s for the Tourist Board to tell us: Where is the money and how do we get it here? Whether it’s by boat, plane or sea,” Ms. Smith said.

Lorie Rymer, an independent candidate for the Ninth District, said he’s not in favour of expanding the runway at this time.

“We have not utilised fully the size of the airport we now have,” he said, adding that he wants to avoid a situation in which the facility is used infrequently due to a lack of demand.

Candidates also largely agree that to draw in and keep visitors, the territory needs more attractions. Most of the parties and several independents have declared plans to promote the VI’s history and culture. Ms. Penn-O’Neal said the VIP sees a need to diversify the industry into fields such as medical tourism, sport fishing and sports tourism.

Several candidates have also touted plans to promote tourism by capitalising on the territory’s traditions and history.

“We can also tap into our cultural aspect of things in terms of creating a better tourism package,” said Khoy Smith, another at-large PPA candidate. “We can have people want to come and eat something different; they don’t want to eat the same Kentucky Fried Chicken that they have at home; they don’t want to eat the same pasta. Perhaps they want to eat a different, cultural, dish.”

NDP Fifth District candidate Delores Christopher and others have floated the idea of creating cultural villages, where tourists can come and view outdoor theatre and other arts activities.

Mark Vanterpool, an NDP candidate running in the Fourth District, said that more can be done to revitalise buildings and sights in Road Town. He also advocated the creation of a “historical walk” for cruise ship passengers, other visitors and residents.

Mr. Vanterpool said that the Main Street area could be made more attractive, benefitting tourists and residents.

Other candidates said they believe the territory needs more museums, which should be self-funding. Mr. Rymer, the Ninth District candidate, said he believes there is a demand for the culture that museums offer, but he doesn’t consider it a matter for government.

“I think to establish museums, we should talk to the people who have various artefacts, various implements of the past, bring them to a central location and ask the public to pay, charge an entrance fee to see them,” he said. “I’m a musician myself, and I’ll be very happy if someone said they had a museum where I could see old violins.”