Tourism Director Clive McCoy said recent months have buoyed overnight tourist arrivals such as those on charter yachts (shown above at The Indians) in 2021, though overall arrivals fell 37 percent from 2020. (Photo: CLAIRE SHEFCHIK)

New tourism numbers are in for 2021: About 50,000 overnight guests arrived on Virgin Islands shores in all of 2020.

The fall is dramatic when compared to previous years. Before the pandemic, overnight tourist arrivals were approaching pre-Hurricane Irma levels, hitting 302,499 in 2019. The pandemic arrived in March 2020, however, bringing a 73 percent decline year on year, with 2020 overnight arrivals dropping to 82,687 before falling an additional 37 percent last year.

But Tourism Director Clive McCoy said last week that tourism is now steadily picking up, and he expects the increase to continue due to a pent-up demand for travel, even during the summer season when arrivals have traditionally dwindled.

“We had a serious downturn in visitors to the destination,” Mr. McCoy said of the 2021 numbers during a virtual media presentation on Tuesday held in partnership with the Caribbean Tourism Organisation. “However, the wonderful thing about Covid-19 and rebuilding for tourism was that each month we noticed an increase in visitors to the destination, and, surprisingly, in the summertime we saw an increase like we never saw before in years past where Covid-19 didn’t exist.”

Mr. McCoy and his team also welcomed local media on Friday for a breakfast meet-and-greet at Wyndham Lambert Beach Resort.

The numbers they provided did not include figures for day trippers or cruise ship passengers. Cruise tourism returned in earnest in October, and Mr. McCoy said he did not yet have the exact numbers for cruise ship passengers, though they had been “performing well.”

Regional numbers

The busiest month of last year, he said, was December, which saw 18,000 overnight visitors.

Even amid the recent resurgence, however, numbers released last month reveal that the territory underperformed much of the Caribbean in tourism in 2021.

In the CTO’s January report, growth was recorded in all three destinations reporting overnight tourist visits for the period January to December.

St. Maarten recorded the largest percentage increase at 133.8 percent and was trailed by St. Lucia (52.2 percent) and Curaçao (51.5 percent).

Out of the 26 CTO destinaProjectstions reporting international arrivals for any part of 2021, growth was recorded in 14, while another 11 destinations, including the VI, registered declines.

However, Mr. McCoy said the territory has high hopes for the rebuilds of Saba Rock, Bitter End Yacht Club in Virgin Gorda, and Long Bay Beach Club in Tortola, and their ability to draw more visitors.

He also cited the new 464 Leopard 53-foot power catamaran from Robinson & Caine as a strong draw for guests to The Moorings fleet last year.


Also in the next year, visitors can expect to see the BVI Tourist Board putting the finishing touches on destination signs, some of which have already made the rounds on social media.

“When you go to certain countries now, you will see statues and signs of the names of countries where you are,” he said. “So we’re building them on each of our main islands — Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke and Anegada.”

Three of them are in the construction phase, with one completed, and the Tourist Board is commissioning VI artists to paint them, he added.

“So we can not only showcase our sun, sand and sea, but to showcase what our culture is and what type of talent we have from an artistic perspective here in the territory,” he said. “The appetite is great for the British Virgin Islands around the world, and my industry partners, the hotels and the charter yacht sector, are really pleased with the amount of guests that are coming in. Of course, we’ve had challenges with Covid but we have been able to mitigate these challenges as best as we can.”