The BVI Tourist Board said in a presentation last week that although tourism numbers from January to July are dismal, the upcoming season looks promising. (Photo: CLAIRE SHEFCHIK)

Tourism numbers for the first half of 2021 are in, and although 26,601 visitors from January to July is a relatively dismal showing, the BVI Tourist Board is optimistic that the second half of the year will be much better.

Already, charter boats and hotels are reporting a cascade of bookings, Tourism Director Clive McCoy said while speaking at a virtual presentation for Jost Van Dyke hospitality businesses on Oct. 6.

The meeting was part of a series of sessions aimed at each major island and focused on the state of tourism in the Virgin Islands and the board’s upcoming plans to boost it further.

“The numbers that we have gotten from the charter company sector as well as other accommodations suggest that it’s meant to be a very good season; one of the better seasons,” Mr. McCoy said. “You are hearing
about numbers that are reminiscent of the numbers we’ve seen in 2019.”

The return of cruise ships to the territory should provide another big boost, he added.

By the numbers

The Virgin Islands has a long way to go to equal pre-pandemic numbers, however.

In 2019, tourist arrivals were approaching pre-Hurricane Irma levels, only to be hit with the pandemic in 2020, which caused a 73 percent decline year on year.

All told, 2020 saw 305,371 total visitors, down from 894,991 in 2019 and 757,015 in 2018, he said.

Those numbers include overnight visitors, cruise ship passengers, and day trippers.

“We know that this is not what we are used to,” Mr. McCoy said. “And it’s not going to get better immediately. Forecasters have said that we won’t see regular numbers travelling as we have seen in the past until 2023.”

From January to July, the territory saw 22,706 overnight visitors, along with 1,465 cruise ship passengers and 1,890 day trippers, according to statistics from the BVITB.

New initiatives

When visitors return to the territory, they will see some new initiatives aimed at keeping them engaged, said Vionie Pickering, acting product director for the BVITB.

First, crumbling phone booths throughout the territory are set to get a second life, she said.

“It is our hope that these would be retrofitted with recordings about the islands and encourage our guests and residents to enjoy selfies as they post them on social media,” she said.

Under the #BVIphonehome campaign, one is set to be placed in the J.R. O’Neal Botanic Gardens, with another location yet to come. Furthermore, she said, the “Rate Our Service” kiosks already found at some of the territory’s ports will be expanded to other islands as part of efforts to gauge customer service.

Additionally, the new BVI Beautiful Step Up Cleanup campaign will raise awareness about the importance of keeping the VI clean, according to Ms. Pickering.

“It’s about changing habits and recognising that waste is no longer a necessity,” she said.

‘Smallest PO’

Finally, she said the board is working to restore the “smallest post office” on Virgin Gorda, which was damaged during the 2017 hurricanes.

“Our project manager has worked diligently; it’s been restored,” she said. “And she has some lovely pictures that we’re excited about and can’t wait to get it finished.”

October and November, she added, will see the start of a service hospitality training campaign, focused on rallying companies and their employees under the acronym “RISE,” which stands for “reinforce, improve, support and empower.”

“We encourage you to get ready for these trainings, and when the team calls you, please register your entire team to be a part of this exciting initiative,” she said.