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April 18, 2001 – The upcoming Destination Symposium on St. Thomas is drawing a record number of participants, but one small group may be left out.
Tourism Commission Pamela Richards wrote the St. Thomas-St. John Hotel and Tourism Association, sponsor of the event, asking that the four public-sector members of the governor's newly created Tourism Advisory Council "be allowed" to attend. They are Leona Bryant, James O'Bryan, Claire Roker and Harold Baker.
Richard Doumeng, association president, wrote back Wednesday, saying they certainly may come but they'll have to pay the $195 registration fee.
Neither Doumeng nor Richards raised the issue publicly, but Wednesday Doumeng responded to questions about it.
He said the association is already hosting four government participants, including Richards, charging them nothing for the symposium, meals, social events or hotel stays. Moreover, the government does not help pay for the symposium, although government representatives make presentations. Richards is scheduled to deliver a keynote speech.
But it's not just the money.
The request didn't come on behalf of the members as individuals, but rather as "an entity," Doumeng said. And he does not want to "legitimize" the entity in any way.
The association has rejected the advisory committee as a poor substitute for the Tourism Authority it had advocated but which was vetoed by Gov. Charles Turnbull. All four of the hospitality industry leaders named by Turnbull to serve on the advisory council have declined to do so.
Doumeng was upbeat about the symposium itself, predicting "a huge turnout" for the eighth annual event sponsored by the association.
The first year, only seven Virgin Islands "travel partners" took part, he said. "This year, we have 38 representatives coming." That's all the tour operators serving the territory, most of the airlines, some travel writers and "people we don't even know" who want to get a bit of the territory's tourism business.
Adding hoteliers and people working in tourism-related industries, Doumeng said, easily a hundred people will attend.
The event kicks off with a dinner Saturday night at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Doumeng said Conde Nast Travel is sponsoring the dinner, so the entire ticket price of $100 per person will go to the hotel association's Alton Adams Scholarship Fund for education in the hospitality industry. The governor is to be the guest of honor.
Symposium presentations begin Sunday morning, and that afternoon will be devoted to a boating experience. All of Monday is devoted to symposium presentations. And on Tuesday, the tour operators will be set loose for a shopping spree with gift certificates worth $250 supplied by the association and several retailers.
Richards could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

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