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Saturday, January 28, 2023



Sept. 26, 2001 – When her telephone rings with messages about exposure opportunities for the territory, Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards doesn't call back, say two people who have been frustrated in their efforts to set up events on St. Thomas that could reach a wide audience of potential visitors.
"We need the enthusiastic endorsement of the Tourism Department," said Mike Gautreaux, who didn't get it.
Gautreaux hoped to film a segment of the Billfishing Xtreme Release League tournament here in August. But when Richards failed to call him back with a decision on the Tourism Department's help, he moved the segment to Tortola.
The tournament, filmed on location at five different sites, is in the midst of airing on ESPN. Each show lasts a half hour.
"The real benefit is that it repeats over and over," said Michael Bornn, a former acting Tourism commissioner, who made the initial contact with Gautreaux. Bornn said the people who watch such television shows come from all walks of life, and they are people who might book a trip to the Virgin Islands after seeing footage on television. "It lights their fire," he said.
Gautreaux said he started trying to work with Tourism in January on plans for the fishing tournament. He met once with Assistant Commissioner Monique Sibilly-Hodge in May, but when Richards failed to follow through with a decision by July, he changed the locale.
"I couldn't wait any more," he said, adding that the British Virgin Islands government was very receptive to his proposal.
He said that when he learned about the Tourism Department's dire financial straits from other sources, he was willing to cut a deal that called for three shows to air this year and three next year. While he needed $40,000 from the department to make it happen, the money could be paid after the start of the next fiscal year on Oct. 1. He said the money was needed for airline transportation and tournament expenses.
Gautreaux said he would love to shoot a fishing tournament segment on St. Thomas, but it will take cooperation from the Tourism Department to make it happen.
Nels Hawkinson is going ahead with plans to hold the University of the Virgin Islands Paradise Jam Men's and Women's Basketball Tournaments, but he's doing it with no help from the Tourism Department.
"They haven't even bothered to return one phone call," he said, adding that he called Richards at least six times.
He said this was especially bothersome given the state of the tourism industry since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The tournaments will run Nov. 17-26. Eleven women's teams and six men's teams, all from mainland colleges, will play at the new UVI Sports and Fitness Center. Hawkinson said that video coverage of the games will air on television stations in the hometowns of the 17 teams. The areas include major markets from the East Coast to the central states.
"This is unbelievable advertising for the Virgin Islands," he said, adding that ESPN is touting the tournament.
Hawkinson said he wanted to do joint local marketing with Tourism in order to sell local tickets to the tournament games. And he hoped the department would help with finding donors of goods and services to help defray expenses.
Richards' response to the comments made by Hawkinson and Gautreaux would not surprise them. She didn't return a phone call to the Source, either.

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