ST. THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands: President Barack Obama’s plans to significantly increase travel and tourism in the United States has been lauded by this country’s tourism head as “not only a major step forward for the world’s biggest travel and tourism economy, but also an opportunity for our territory to look at how we might harvest the new opportunities arising from the President’s bold initiative”.
Commissioner of Tourism, Beverly Nicholson-Doty, said, however, that it was important for island territories of the U.S. to ensure those implementing the President’s initiative in Washington understood the significance of tourism to small island economies like the USVI.
“Long-haul travelers spend on average US$4,000 on each visit. So, we applaud the president taking much-needed steps to expand the visa waiver program, reduce the time taken to wait for an interview and increase the capacity to process visas in China and Brazil by 40 per cent during this year,” she said.
“Our economy needs the … boost from more tourists. We will look at how we in the USVI can harness the increased visitors from Brazil, China and other beneficiary countries.”
Nicholson-Doty said she expected the increase in tourists to benefit the Caribbean in its entirety, “especially from long-haul destinations”.
The Commissioner also applauded her neighbour islands colleague, Mario González-Lafuente, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company (PRTC), on his appointment to the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, which provides stakeholder feedback on the challenges faced by the U.S. travel and tourism industry, in addition to ideas on how the federal government can support the sector.
“We look forward to working with González-Lafuente and the PRTC in their representation of all U.S. territories and the Caribbean region,” she said, adding that the USVI’s long-term tourism development strategy, which is under development, will look at approaches to harmonizing its activities with the strategy announced by President Obama.
Nicholson-Doty noted that travel and tourism is a $1.2 trillion sector of the U.S. economy or nearly three per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
“We in the U.S. Virgin Islands are more dependent on the sector with travel and tourism accounting for roughly 30 per cent of our GDP…so we will continue pursuing new avenues to strengthen and market our tourism product, and find more ways of getting our messages across to policy and decision makers in Washington, “ she said.