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Friday, February 3, 2023


Oct. 9, 2001 – Expressing determined optimism, a panel of island business people took a look at "The Next 12 Months" Tuesday at the monthly meeting of the Advertising Club of the Virgin Islands.
Addie Ottley of WSTA radio moderated the panel consisting of Zona Corbin, Little Switzerland marketing director; Terry Robinson, Draughting Shaft owner; Randy Kneedler, Caribbean Auto Mart general manager; and Alex Treml, owner of Alexander's Café and catering service.
Their assignment for the luncheon meeting at The Pointe at Villa Olga was to discuss how their businesses are coping with the economic aftermath of last month's terrorist attacks.
Although the panel members tried their best to be upbeat about their prospects for the approaching season, Ottley said there is something critical the community has been missing. "There's a blank space between the government offices and economics," he said. "We have received no real direction from the governor and the Legislature."
Ottley, who owns WSTA Radio and hosts "The Morning Show," said he hoped that a meeting of Gov. Charles W. Turnbull and members of the 24th Legislature being held Tuesday on St. Croix would change that.
No representative of the Tourism Department attended the meeting, although the Ad Club president, Norita Lee, had invited them. No other government representatives were in attendance.
Kneedler and Robinson said the current economic situation has made a new customer orientation necessary.
Instead of emphasizing new-vehicle sales, "We're having a change of focus to the service area," Kneedler said. "We are working closer with customers about servicing the older cars." He added, "We are moving on a day-to-day basis; 12 months is too long." While he has not seen a sales decline yet, he said, "It's a little early."
Robinson said challenges are nothing new to The Draughting Shaft. "We've been faced with Cost-You-Less and Office Max, so we're used to it." he said, adding that his office supply shop is currently concentrating on journals, diaries and holiday greeting cards. "People are wanting to put their thoughts down on paper, and probably this year they'll feel the urge to send more old friends cards, keep in touch, reaching out to people," he said.
Treml, however, said his business has lost a lot of catering jobs because of group travel cancellations. "We had a big group from Pepsi at the end of the month, but they've canceled," he said. "There was a big biotech group, about 580, who were staying at the Reef. They were shut down for four days to redo security and they canceled." But, he added, "some groups have rescheduled from November to January; so, I think things will improve."
Treml said he thinks the news media have overplayed people's fear of flying. "I'm cautiously optimistic," he said. "Working in a bar, you hear things. I think it will get better."
Another thought Treml shared: "I don't think the bombing [in Afghanistan] will have much effect on tourism. I think it will be a war of detectives and bean counters."
Corbin was decidedly unfazed."We are looking for a strong season," she said of the local Little Switzerland operation. "Most of the ships have been at 85 percent capacity, and we are getting ships that have been rerouted from the Mediterranean and the Asian countries."
Little Switzerland has shops in downtown Charlotte Amalie and in Havensight Mall, the prime hunting grounds of cruise ship shoppers. "Americans love to shop, we love to travel, we're spoiled," Corbin said. "Americans aren't going to stay home. We have to greet them and make them feel welcome, feel safe."
Alex Randall IV, WSTA Radio's "Good New Guy," noted the current low airfares to San Juan and said the port authority there had worked together with the airlines, lowered its landing fees and managed not to lay any of it employees off.
That prompted Lisa Schmidt, Cape Air marketing director, to say that "St. Thomas and Boston's Logan Airport have the highest landing fees in the nation. They're outrageous."
Schmidt, who said Cape Air is moving forward with a full winter schedule, said a group of local airline representatives had approached the Port Authority about lowering the fees. "They not only didn't lower them; they are raising a passenger charge by 15 percent until they pay for the new tower at the St. Croix airport," she said.
Gordon Finch, VIPA executive director, could not be reached for a response Tuesday afternoon.
Schmidt, who is a member of the governor's newly formed Tourism Advisory Council, suggested members of the Ad Club "get behind Tourism Commissioner Pam Richards' campaign."
Ottley raise the question, "Are we preparing the island if we do get more cruise ships? Are we cleaning up the island?" He said the territory is experiencing a "drag" that hasn't been taken care of yet. "We need a positive, realistic approach from the government," he said. "Keep that in mind, and act accordingly."
The next Ad Club meeting is scheduled for Nov. 13 at the same location. Edward Thomas, president of The West Indian Co., is to be the speaker.

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