Cruise ship passengers’ enthusiasm for visiting the Virgin Islands hasn’t been dampened by the arrest of the territory’s former premier last month in Miami while he was on a trip to one of the cruise industry’s largest conferences, Deputy Premier Kye Rymer said during a press conference on Friday.
“Based on what happened at Seatrade with our cruise partners, the experience of the guests remains high and they were excited to come to the territory,” Mr. Rymer said in response to a reporter’s question. “I understand what took place at that time, but our industry partners have developed a relationship with them, and they will make sure that once they come to the territory, the product would be there for them to explore.”
Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley added that by removing Mr. Fahie as premier, “We are sending a message to the Virgin Islands public and to the international community that business continues in the BVI.”
Seatrade Cruise Global 2022 brings together buyers and suppliers in the cruise industry from 140 countries and over 300 international journalists, making it the largest gathering in the cruise industry, according to Mr. Rymer.
The delegation included Mr. Rymer; then-Premier Andrew Fahie; Sharie de Castro, then-junior minister for tourism; BVI Ports Authority officials; Cyril B. Romney Tortola Pier Park executives; BVI Tourist Board representatives; and local cruise industry partners, with the aim of evaluating feedback from the recent cruise season and getting a head start on the coming year.
According to BVI Tourist Board Marketing Manager Natasha Chalwell, VI officials recently met again with many of the partners from the conference, “just to reassure them that we continue to operate our cruise business, and that was well received.”
Smaller ships pursued
The conference has already resulted in a win, Mr. Rymer announced. Two new cruise ship brands, he said, have confirmed calls to the VI for the 2022-2023 season: Virgin Cruises and the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection.
The VI delegation gave “special focus” to these smaller luxury cruise lines, which often stay for multiple days and spend time in the sister islands, aligning well with the rest of the VI’s high-end market, according to the deputy premier.
The VI delegation met with at least 12 different cruise companies and several regional port partners, he added.
Though the cruise industry continues to cope with fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, it expects a return to 96 percent capacity by July.
Next season, he said, the VI can expect 417 cruise calls, with 79 multiple-call days, including visits to the sister islands.
“One of the benefits of attending Seatrade is that you get a more in-depth understanding of the industry trends and what passengers are looking for, so that you can pivot your strategy to attract the travellers’ interests — whether in terms of the tourism product or the marketing strategy, and so forth,” Mr. Rymer said. “And, of course, you get the opportunity to sit and negotiate with the top decision makers in the cruise companies and convince them that bringing their passengers to the Virgin Islands is the best.”
Despite last month’s shocking news, the VI continues to rate “favourably” among destinations, with “the friendliness of locals” cited as a major draw, Mr. Rymer said.
Also during the press conference, BVI Tourist Board Director Clive McCoy said one cruise line “told us we were in the top three of destinations they have visited for hospitality.”
Mr. Rymer added that the conference was also a chance to tout new initiatives that officials are hoping will coax ships to stay longer and spend more money.
“Half-day stays … are not in the best interest of the cruise guests and do not allow maximum potential of both experiences and revenue,” he said.
The VI is also hoping to tempt larger ships to stay overnight now that they can legally operate on-board casinos, thanks to the VI Gaming and Betting Control (Amendment) Act passed last year, according to the deputy premier.
“This presents a new opportunity, and many of the cruise lines were particularly interested in this endeavour,” Mr. Rymer said. “It is hoped that further discussions on this topic will ensue once the Gaming and Betting Commission is established with its board appointed.”
The global cruise industry expects to return to pre-pandemic passenger levels in 2023, but already more than 80 percent of the worldwide fleet is back and more ships are expecting to set sail again in July, according to Mr. Rymer.
The Caribbean region remains one of the top cruise destinations globally, with 44 percent of passengers expressing interest in the region, said Mr. Rymer, citing Kelly Craighead, president and CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association.
Mr. Rymer also cited Ms. Craighead’s claim that the “high level of vaccinated guests and crewmembers” helped combat the negative publicity that resulted from cruise ships being a source of several early Covid-19 outbreaks.