Since I can remember — back when tourism was young in the Virgin Islands in the early 1970s — West End has always been the portal by which the majority of tourists arrived in the VI.
In 2015, for example, a total of 160,671 people (47,327 residents and 113,276 visitors) arrived to West End, compared to 108,556 to the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport on Beef Island (30,633 residents and 77,803 visitors). Meanwhile, 113,325 in total arrived to the Road Town ferry terminal; 77, 506 to Virgin Gorda; and 64,293 to Jost Van Dyke.
This trend in all likelihood will continue as long as St. Thomas has more direct flights from the United States — the primary source of our tourist visitor base.
The question, then, is this: In the government recovery plan, why would the rebuild of the terminal receive a scant $4 million in contrast to the incredible $250 million allocated for the airport at Beef Island?
Though there apparently is hope for direct flights from Miami and New York to the VI, the higher prices and limited number of flights will still make St. Thomas the preferred mode of access to the VI.
It would seem to stand to reason that these facts would induce government to invest rather more than it is investing in restoring the road to Carrot Bay in a truly state-of-the-art ferry terminal — especially now that West End’s former rundown facility, which had extremely poor vehicular access, has been destroyed by Irma.
A calculated investment in an additional one or two state-of-the-art ferries while they are at it — as well as making late arrivals possible by putting additional officers on at night to receive visitors arriving on later flights — would make arriving and leaving the VI more comfortable and a whole lot more attractive.
Let ‘elite’ pay?
The elite wishing to arrive in small jets and park at Beef Island could still do so — or if they need to expand the airport for their own use, then it might be wise to let them do it on their own dime and not that of the people of the VI.
It is mind-boggling that six months after the hurricane, customs and immigration officials have no more than a tent in which to conduct business and what should be a bustling port is no more than a ghost town with no discernible plan to go forward before the next tourist season in sight.