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Friday, January 27, 2023



Sept. 22, 2001 – As the territory's economy continues to worsen in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the mainland, leaders of the territory's chambers of commerce and hotel associations met Friday with government officials to formulate a plan to stem the continuing downslide in tourism arrivals.
They presented a collectively worked-out plan that calls for, among other things:
– Deferred payment of gross receipts taxes and Water and Power Authority bills for four months.
– Free vacations for 500 New York and Washington emergency rescue workers, a move intended to generate positive public relations as well as thank those personnel.
– A campaign to market the territory as a friendly destination under the American flag.
– Lobbying to get the nation's airlines to restore flights to the Virgin Islands before they resume interrupted international service and to restore the recently slashed cap on travel-agent commissions for domestic ticketing.
– Creation of a Tax Reform Commission that would have 30 days to come up with its own plan.
"We can't go on much longer like this," Richard Doumeng, president of the St. Thomas-St. John Hotel and Tourism Association, said Saturday. "This has to be close to the bottom."
Wendall Snider, Doumeng's St. Croix counterpart, summed up the situation this way: "If something is not done, we're dead."
Hotel cancellations continue to pour in, both hotel executives said. Last September — traditionally the slowest time of year in the territory — the territory's hotels had a 36 percent occupancy rate, Snider said. At the moment, it stands at 13 percent.
"There are over $4 million in cancellations for October and November," he said, explaining that the figure represents 18,000 room nights.
John deJongh Jr., president of the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce, said retail sales are 25 to 30 percent lower than they were a year ago. He said retail workers are already on shortened summer hours. If there is no improvement in coming weeks, store and restaurant owners may not be able to bump them back up to full time.
DeJongh said he believes the V.I. government can work with the business sector on the actions being proposed. "I don't think there's anything in the plan that bothers them," he said.
He expects the plan to be implemented in the next three to four months.
Dick Doumeng, one of the elder statesmen of the territory's tourism industry and Richard Doumeng's father, said coming back from this blow will be difficult. "You can't market away being frightened to get on a plane," he said.
He predicted that by the winter season, the economy will be on the upswing. "But can we survive for four months? It's scary," he said.
As part of the multipronged plan, the hoteliers want immediate help to keep their doors open for the next four months via the postponed payment of gross receipts tax and WAPA power and water bills. "If they want me to keep my doors open, I need help to keep my lights on," said Richard Doumeng, who manages Bolongo Bay Beach Club and Villas on St. Thomas.
Beyond immediate efforts to cut back on operating costs, the plan calls for a program to entice tourists to the territory. First, the hoteliers hope the airlines will assist them in putting together the 500 free vacation packages for emergency crews that have been working on rescue efforts at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
It also calls for a tourism marketing campaign focusing on the fact that the American flag flies over the Virgin Islands, assuring visitors a friendly and safe environment. Snider, who manages the Hibiscus Beach Hotel on St. Croix, said the campaign would be introduced not immediately, but "at the appropriate time," when Americans are farther along in the recovery process.
The plan also calls for persuading the airlines, which had cut back on flights for the summer as usual, to increase the number of flights for season. It envisions the development of air/land packages aimed at markets with direct flights to the territory.
Marketing of the University of the Virgin Islands Paradise Jam Women's Basketball Tournament, scheduled for Nov. 18-26, also is on the agenda.
On the national level, the plan asks that the $15 billion airline bailout package passed this week by Congress be tied to restoring flights to the territory before international flights resume. It also calls for reinstating the $50 cap on airline ticket commissions to travel agents for domestic flights, which include the Virgin Islands. The airline industry chopped the cap to $20 last month in a cost-saving move. Local hoteliers noted that the mainland focus aspects will need the support of Delegate Donna Christian Christensen.
Locally, the proposal calls for legislation to require that the government and its agencies as well as companies receiving Economic Development Commission benefits purchase all goods and services locally.
The plan also calls for the EDC immediately to complete the processing of the more than 30 applications already approved so the approved new companies can open up shop. And it calls for implementation of a recently announced long-term operating agreement with the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association which would strengthen the cruise industry's commitment to the territory.
Business leaders also ask that a Tax Reform Commission be created and be given the task of coming up with a tax reform plan within 30 days. The plan calls for release of funding for capital improvement projects. And it calls for increased security via a more visible police presence, enforcement of traffic and parking laws, implementation of caller ID across the territory, and an ongoing review of air and seaport security procedures.
The government's representatives brought a few plans of their own to the table. They included:
– Expediting capital projects on the books and speeding up those capital projects under way.
– Identifying what it can do to help private-sector projects get under way or move to completion.
– Establishing retraining programs for unemployed workers.
The government representatives said they would come up with ideas to increase air and cruise-ship passenger arrivals. They said they expect to accelerate approval of EDC benefits for new businesses and to wrap up plans for a UVI Research Park. And, they said, the government wants ongoing communication between the public and private sectors.

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