Preliminary data shows growth in visitor arrivals in the first quarter of this year, and the trend is expected to accelerate with the help of the daily direct flights between here and Miami launched last month, according to Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley.
From January through the end of March, 459,652 people visited the territory, Dr. Wheatley said during a House of Assembly meeting last Thursday.
The government, he added, hopes to reach one million visitors this year, a milestone achieved for the first time in 2016 but never repeated since.
“While the figures show strong recovery and high interest, the 2022 total of 523,289 visitors is not the benchmark for the Virgin Islands’ tourism industry. Neither is the 2019 pre-pandemic total of 894,991 visitors,” the premier stated. “The more appropriate benchmark for us is the 1.1 million visitors that came to our shores in 2016.”
The premier added that the World Tourism Organisation forecasts that the global tourism industry will return to pre-pandemic levels late this year or early next year.
The VI is showing steady promise, the premier stated.
In the first quarter of 2023, he added, the territory welcomed 348,909 cruise visitors, 106,902 overnight visitors, and 3,841 day trippers. In the same quarter of 2022, there were 113,555 cruise visitors, 44,360 overnight visitors, and 1,451 day trippers.
Despite the positive growth, the premier acknowledged the evolving landscape of tourism and the need for proactive measures to protect the industry.
Other destinations, he warned, have intensified their focus on tourism, diversifying their offerings and aggressively targeting the same customer base. Changes in traveler behaviour, airlift dynamics, and accessibility have also impacted the industry, he explained.
To meet travelers’ evolving demands, the government plans to diversify the territory’s tourism product with cultural experiences, adventure tourism, and entertainment offerings, the premier stated.
The government also aims to attract both business and leisure travelers by promoting itself as a preferred destination for meetings, conferences and events.
“Tourism, as we all know, is one of the two main engines of the Virgin Islands’ economy, accounting for approximately 40 percent of government revenues,” Dr. Wheatley said. “This is money that is used to finance government activities such as the delivery of government services, payment of public officers’ salaries, repayment of public debt, maintenance of infrastructure, and development of projects.”
The economic pillar is also “one of the main generators of employment” in the territory, he added.