Tourists walk to their cruise ship on Sunday at the Cyril B. Romney Tortola Pier Park. A long-delayed tourism plan promised this year is expected to consider cruise ship passengers as well as yachters and land-based visitors.

After more than a decade of delays, a national tourism plan is in the works and will be completed by the end of this year, Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley said recently in the House of Assembly.

Dr. Wheatley provided the update on Jan. 30 after Opposition Leader Ronnie Skelton asked him about his government’s plans for the tourism industry over the next five to 10 years.

The premier — who is also the minister of tourism, culture and sustainable development — said that “consultations have begun” for a national tourism plan, and that he expects it to be completed in the fourth quarter of this year.

He didn’t say who took part in the consultations, but government Communications Director Karia Christopher told the Beacon they were held during policy meetings with the Organisation for Eastern Caribbean States, which is working on a regional tourism policy.

“During the OECS policy meetings, over 70 sector-based businesses, government ministries and departments [expressed] a wide range of views, ideas, recommendations, and suggestions which are currently being collated,” Ms. Christopher stated.

In the HOA, the premier also said the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sustainable Development is “positioned in government to formulate a longer-term strategic outlook in partnership with the OECS, industry partners, the public and public-sector agencies.”

He added that this “strategic outlook” will be designed to “embed the presentation of our culture and our people, which we have commenced by directly contributing towards the regional tourism policy, which will also inform our national tourism plan.”

A marketing strategy

Though the Virgin Islands has long lacked an official national tourism plan, the premier said the government has not been operating with no strategy at all.

“We are not devoid of a plan,” the premier said. “The Tourist Board, which has been tasked with the marketing and the guest experience, operates under a strategic framework, which includes a three-year strategic marketing plan guiding all marketing initiatives designed to entice and secure retention of visitors and long-term guests to the territory.”

Dr. Wheatley promised to provide the opposition with this marketing plan as part of his answer to Mr. Skelton’s question.

The Beacon, however, had not been able to obtain a copy as of press time yesterday afternoon despite requesting it from the BVI Tourist Board, the Premier’s Office, and the HOA.

Prolonged delays

A national tourism plan has been a longstanding promise across successive government administrations.

In 2011, the National Democratic Party came to power promising to replace an outdated tourism strategy adopted in the mid-1990s. Until his retirement in 2019, then-Premier Dr. Orlando Smith continued to push the idea, which was also included in the Recovery to Development Plan that government published shortly after Hurricane Irma devastated the territory.

“The first step to revisioning and repositioning the tourism industry for the future is the development of a national tourism strategy in 2018,” the plan stated.

Tourists walk to their cruise ship on Sunday at the Cyril B. Romney Tortola Pier Park. A long-delayed tourism plan promised this year is expected to consider cruise ship passengers as well as yachters and land-based visitors. (Photo: Allison Vaughn)
$800k sought

In early 2018, then-BVITB Chairman Russell Harrigan — the majority owner and publisher of this newspaper — said the BVITB was seeking $800,000 to create the plan.

That November, then-Tourism Director Sharon Flax-Brutus said the BVITB was committed to completing it by early 2019.

“Work has already begun on this project,” she said at the time, adding that the plan would include a renewed push toward urging residents to visit the sister islands.

However, no draft was made public, and Ms. Flax-Brutus resigned in May 2020.


In 2021, then-Premier Andrew Fahie promised that a draft of the plan would be completed by the end of that year.

That didn’t happen, but after a tender process, Cabinet decided in March 2022 to award a contract to create the plan to the New York-based public relations firm 5W PR, according to a Cabinet summary published at the time.

The firm was to be paid $1,971,556 in three equal instalments of $657,185 for a duration of three years, the summary stated. That contract, however, was later put on hold, Dr. Wheatley told the HOA in September 2023.