Sept. 4, 2002 – A St. Croix business coalition submitted a marketing proposal to Royal Caribbean Cruise Line this week in an effort to ensure the company's continued participation in the local tourism industry. Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards said on Wednesday that she doesn't know why.
The coalition, St. Croix Alive, submitted its plan on Tuesday — four days after Richards submitted the Tourism Department's pre-season 2003 marketing plan to Royal Caribbean.
Leaders of the group St. Croix Alive say the success of their plan could keep up to $9 million in cruise ship-related revenues on island. The loss of business from two other cruise lines that recently canceled their calls at the port of Frederiksted has already cost $60 million, according to John Demo, president of the coalition. "We're losing, up front, hard dollars because of the loss of the cruise ships," he said Wednesday.
Demo came up with the $9 million figure assuming that each call by a Royal Caribbean ship puts $350,000 to $450,000 into the local economy, with 23 to 26 calls scheduled. He then factored in an Economics 101 formula for the seven times each dollar spent supposedly circulates in a community before leaving, coming up with a potential economic impact of about $64 million for the scheduled port calls.
St. Croix Alive is made up of retailers, tour promoters, restaurant owners and taxi operators. Demo said the group formed shortly after Carnival and Holland America pulled out of St. Croix and has been aggressively soliciting help from the V.I. government and seeking strategies to salvage the island's economy.
The business group's marketing plan, submitted to the Royal Caribbean's Destination Development Division, addresses issues of safety and security, infrastructure and transportation, on-shore enhancements, and quality assurance to create consistency in the tourism product. Parts of the plan were developed at meetings attended by Richards after business owners had written to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull expressing their concerns.
Demo said the Tourism Department marketing plan reflects little input from his group, although St. Croix Alive representatives had met several times with the commissioner since May.
Richards said her plan represents considerable input from the taxi drivers, retailers and other business operators that are a part of St. Croix Alive. "To me, if you work on something for five weeks, I can't just say it's my plan," Richards said. "So, I'm at a loss as to why [they] need to submit a separate plan."
She said she met weekly with tourist associations on St. Croix and met in separate sessions with public and private entities involved with tourism. And she said she acknowledged the input received at those meetings in the plan she sent to Royal Caribbean last Friday.
The Tourism Department, she stated in the plan,"will seek out the widest possible public participation and public/private partnerships with allied organizations." To that end, she said, she has "conducted regular weekly meetings with both public and private sector partners, since the June 25-26, 2002, visit of the F-CCA officials to the island to discuss the St. Croix product."
Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association officials traveled to St. Croix to hear the territory's marketing plan that was called for as part of the long-term agreement between the V.I. government and the F-CCA and its member lines that took effect last year. (See "Meetings make cruise line concerns clear".)
Richards said the department "also established a weekly (Wednesday) three-hour meeting to update the partners on activities developed in this plan. In these fora, much constructive dialogue has been shared to improve the components of this Response and Activities platform."
Both plans address the major concerns executives of Carnival and Holland America have expressed about safety and security. Richards told the cruise executives that St. Croix is working to polish its image as a tourist destination and can do so with the help with the private sector. "Our efforts have to be aligned to insure consistency in message and product quality," she said.
St. Croix Alive members say their group was invited to send its plan to the cruise line during a meeting with Royal Caribbean officials in May. Now that they have submitted their plan, members say, they are busy making sure all of the amenities they have proposed can be delivered.
One of the people helping to do this is Mary Moorhead, who grew up in Frederiksted and supplements her income as a teacher by running a limousine service. "St. Croix Alive assigned me to organize the welcoming party — which turned out to be the departure party because Tourism decided to take care of the welcoming party, so we decided to adjust our schedule," she said. Arrangements include performances by local school groups, she said.
Demo expressed concern about portions of the coalition plan that depend on actions by the government. "We in the private sector can do all we can to enhance the visitor's experience," he said, "but what we can't do is put a policeman on the street."
Coalition member Hugh Dalton — who organized the tourist-oriented Harbor Night events held in Frederiksted in the last two years when cruise ships were in port — said St. Croix Alive took a long-range approach in the marketing plan it sent to Royal Caribbean. Government administrations come and go, Dalton said, but the business sector is permanent and can develop the kind of plan to guarantee that St. Croix will consistently offer visitors safety, convenience and entertainment for years to come. "The private sector is the only consistent part of the plan," he said.
Dalton, owner of Dalton Associates, an advertising and public relations agency, said one of his biggest concerns is for the cruise ship executives to see that the government and the private sector are working together, unified in their intent to keep the cruise visitors' business.
On Friday, Richards had been scheduled to appear before the Senate Government Operations Committtee on St. Croix to discuss the Tourism Department's marketing plan and provide an update on the territory's long-term agreement with the R-CCA. After the session had convened, she sent word to Sen. Emmett Hansen II, the committee chair, that she would not appear and would not comply with the committee's request that she submit Tourism's marketing plan in writing to the body.
Hansen canceled the meeting 15 minutes after it started, calling it a waste of time. Dalton, who was present to testify, said he considered the committee meeting important because of negotiations under way with Royal Caribbean.
The pullout of Carnival and Holland America Cruise lines galvanized business operators, Demo said. "The ships pulled out, and there was no response from the Chamber of Commerce, so we decided we had to speak up and have some response to it," he added.
Frank Fox, St. Croix Chamber of Commerce president, did not return a telephone call Wednesday seeking comment. But the president of the St. Croix Hotel and Tourism Association offered an explanation of sorts. Like the chamber, the hotel association is "apolitical by its bylaws" and cannot align itself with any group that has political affiliations, Robert Siefert said.
Siefert, who is general manager of the Divi Carina Bay Resort and Casino, added, "We certainly support what they are doing. But we are not going to back any particular political candidate, because we're not allowed to." He declined to elaborate.
Demo did not allude to any political affiliation on the part of St. Croix Alive but said that in the haste to form a coalition, he learned some lessons about declaring alliances with other groups.
Siefert said although the ho
tel association has not been actively involved with the business coalition, there is talk of the two groups teaming up to promote a debate by the candidates for governor in the November general election. His group has "no relationship" with St. Croix Alive, he said. "However, if they come up with something, the hotel association will work with them as long as they remain impartial."
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