In terms of value for money, investment in the West End ferry terminal is the most critical tourism and seaport investment the Virgin Islands can make right now.
Investment in the facility and supporting infrastructure is more critical to the VI gross domestic product than any other investment. Spending on the port will give greater bang for the buck than investment in expanding the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport.
The airport expansion scheme, which has seen millions of dollars of taxpayer cash already spent, remains a doubtful proposal and a questionable investment. Why? Because as any traveller will state, the airport will never be able to compete with Cyril E. King International Airport in St. Thomas. It is that simple!
And from the West End of Tortola, St. Thomas is a very short and pleasant ferry ride of about 30 minutes. Then, once on a plane on St. Thomas, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, Houston and a host of other United States cities are a short flight away. From the US, the entire world is an oyster. The US possesses the world’s most powerful airline network.
Consequently, West End dock is a type of feeder into and out of the US, and investment in the ferry port promises a greater return on capital employed, and a better risk investment, than investing in any other port of entry in the territory.
Jost Van Dyke
The West End dock further services Jost Van Dyke, another VI tourist destination.
Travelling by ferry to and from the West End via the USVI cuts the length of time of a 60-minute ferry ride using the Road Town dock by half. It offers travellers extra travel options. It will further lift pressure off Road Town ferry terminal by easing traveller and cargo traffic there.
The prospect of increasing the number of travellers into the VI from St. Thomas and thereby growing VI tourism depends on how well the territory can leverage the flow of passengers from the US and get a significant number into the VI to overnight. That is best done by leveraging US travellers in the USVI.
This will mean customs and immigration desks and personnel resident in the USVI, driving swift customs and immigration protocols and clearance at Cyril E. King, Charlotte Amalie ferry harbour, and Red Hook.
VI customs and immigration protocols in the USVI can become a brand-new entry process that speeds up bureaucracy and should be carried out by VI-appointed agents residing in the USVI.
This system will enable swift entry into West End and Road Town by US tourists after a quick police check for weapons at the entry points in the West End and Road Town ports.
The immediate impact of a greater flow of travellers into West End will be quickly felt by taxi drivers, car rental firms and West End hotels, all of which will see a significant increase in business that has suffered since that port of entry closed to international ferries.
As tourism expands, there will be a need for greater numbers of hotel rooms. Car rental firms will have to purchase more vehicles. Restaurants will see expansion. There will be an increase in employment and greater security of tenure for those at work in tourism, especially workers in the West End.
But all of the preceding depends on increasing the traveller traffic from the US into the VI through the USVI.
West End port development and supporting infrastructure development has got to be top priority.
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