In an effort to brainstorm ways to earn more from the cruise ship passengers who visit the Virgin Islands, representatives from four cruise lines hosted a public meeting last week alongside Premier Andrew Fahie to gauge business owners’ interest in experimenting and expanding.
During the two-hour-long meeting at the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College on Oct. 2, one key suggestion quickly became a focus: bringing local culture and history alive.
“We have to go back to basics; we have to create something that’s unique,” said Michele Paige, president of the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association. “We have to look at things new. … People want experiences. Cruise lines want to call where people want to go and where they can make the most money.”
The representatives’ suggestions included providing tailored experiences called “go-local touring.”This, they said, involves residents coming together and telling stories of their childhood, and bringing passengers to places where they grew up.
“It’s not providing for the masses,” said Christine Manjencic, vice president of Norwegian Cruise Lines.
The aim, she said, would be to create experiences for smaller groups which could be packaged and marketed by cruise lines, either as part of an advance cruise itinerary or as shoreline excursions.
Stakeholders from Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Carnival and Disney cruise lines were all present at the meeting. Each took a turn to either express their commitment to help develop opportunities in the territory or to commend the recovery effort that they’ve seen.
“The journey that you all have been on is nothing short of remarkable,” said Ms. Manjencic, who added that she came to the VI two months after the 2017 hurricanes and has witnessed the recovery first hand.
She also gave insight into how cruise lines attract customers. First, she said, they provide a prospective itinerary, and once guests choose a package they offer shoreline excursions at additional costs.
“Millennials are changing our industry by the minute: This is what I see with our shore excursions and their demand on what they want when they go to a destination. It’s not the old traditional group shore excursion they’re wanting: They’re looking for these unique experiences, these smaller groups,” she said.
Ms. Paige informed the audience that on average in 2018, each cruise ship passenger spent about $78 in the Virgin Islands compared to nearly $200 in St. Thomas. Though passenger spending here has gradually risen over the years, even despite the hurricanes of 2017, the average amount that crew members spend in the territory has dropped from $47 in 2012 to $34 in 2018, she added.
Carlos Estrada, director of commercial homeport operations at Carnival, mentioned the importance of crew members and making sure they are “well taken care of.”
Mr. Fahie said that his main goals include seeing an increase in three areas: number of ship calls, passenger spending, and the employment of Virgin Islanders in the industry.
Andre Pousada, associate vice president of government relations at Royal Caribbean Cruises, stressed the importance of having a strong infrastructure in place to handle an influx of passengers.
In a statement released two days after the meeting, government announced that it is working along with the BVI Ports Authority, the BVI Tourist Board, and Cyril B. Romney Tortola Pier Park to “enhance and market the territory’s product offerings.”
Last month, hospitality stakeholders called for a long-term tourism plan, which was mentioned in the Recovery to Development Plan passed in 2018.
The progress of that plan is unclear, but it may have been in the works last November, when BVI Tourist Board Director Sharon Flax- Brutus said during a media breakfast her agency was committed to developing a strategic plan for tourism in the VI by early 2019.