Everyone is entitled to an opinion; however, facts need to be accurate. To that end I am providing the sources for the ship visit statistics and related information cited in my editorial “VI Killing the Golden Goose.”
www.portstmaarten.com , (St. Maarten Port Authority), Virgin Islands Port Authority (VIPA), West Indian Company Ltd. (WICO), VI Bureau of Economic research, Royal Media Partners provided me with the St. Thomas passenger and ship visit call sheets, and St. Maarten call sheet for the period October- September 2013-2014, 2015-2016, 2016-2017, 2017-2018. Royal Media Partners is a company that works closely with Royal Caribbean and Celebrity cruise lines managing promotional activity for each island. Cruise schedules are subject to change, however Royal Media’s ship calls reconciled with the other publically available information on ship calls to both islands.
Royal Caribbean and Celebrity cruise calls to St. Thomas are in serious decline. St. Thomas will have 118 calls while St. Maarten will have 207 calls during the 2017-2018 October to September season. As devastating, overall ship visits to the St. Thomas are declining. The VI Bureau of Economic Research reports:
2015- 560 ship calls
2016- 535 ship calls
2017- Projected at less than 535 calls
Michelle Paige, president of the Florida Caribbean Cruise Ship Association, provided me with invaluable insight into the state of the cruise industry in the Caribbean. We spoke about 6 weeks ago. I have known Michelle for 20 years since we served on the cruise ship task force together in 1998. As a result of that task force work, the VI government signed a 5-year operating agreement with the member lines of the FCCA. The result was a dramatic increase in passenger arrivals and ship calls for the period of the agreement, and a huge increase in revenue for the government and a corresponding boon to the local economy.
I asked Michelle what the VI needs to do to recapture our position as the premiere destination in the Eastern Caribbean. Her answer was: increase your berthing capacity to prepare for mega class ships, water transportation, new and exciting excursions that would refreshen our tourist offering. With respect to the Long Bay dock, she said the cancelling of that project was a major step backwards relative to what our competition is doing in St. Maarten. Without additional berthing capacity, you simply cannot grow, she stated emphatically.
Her last comments focused on Joseph Boschulte President of WICO. Rumors were circulating that he would be forced out. She said Joe was highly respected amongst the member lines of FCCA and that the cruise lines had come to trust him, and had an excellent working relationship with him, which she said was incredibly important since that had not always been the case in the past. Mr. Boschulte had been one of the original advocates for the Long Bay Dock and festival village project back in 2014 when it was presented to the community. Subsequently and for unknown reasons this critically important capital project was cancelled.
It was with great disappointment that I read in the Source on March 16 that the board of directors of the West Indian Company chose at Sea Trade of all places to inform Mr. Boschulte that his contract would not be renewed effective April 30. The choice of timing can only be described as callous and insensitive. Furthermore, I understand that the cruise lines are incredibly disappointed with this change of leadership and unwelcome news. Once again, we have an example of the Virgin Islands Government not listening to the cruise industry, unlike St. Maarten who owes their success to listening.
Pitchforks to the Board of WICO for allowing politics to take the place of good judgment and sound business practices, to the detriment of all Virgin Islanders.
Editor’s note: Filippo Cassinelli runs A.H. Riise Mall on St. Thomas, which has been in his family since 1928.