Sept. 17, 2002 – Anxious to woo the cruise ship industry back to St. Croix, the V.I. government and a group representing private sector interests have submitted separate plans for improving the tourism experience to the one cruise line that has decided to continue its schedule of calls at the port of Frederiksted through the end of the year.
The presentation of two tourism plans to Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines is viewed as a good idea by the business group, St. Croix Alive, and not a good idea by Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards. When Richards heard that SCA had submitted its own plan to cruise executives on Sept. 3, four days after she submitted hers to RCCL and Government House, Richards said, "I'm at a loss as to why" there was a need "to submit a separate plan."
Nonetheless, there are now two plans putting the best face of tourism on St. Croix forward at RCCL headquarters in Miami. They are in many ways similar, but there also are some notable differences. Both plans in their introductions acknowledge the concerns of the cruise lines about curbing crime against tourists and crew members and also about the need to develop St. Croix further as a distinct destination that offers visitors something they can't experience by visiting St. Thomas and St. John.
Both proposals point to the need for government and private sector partnering in order to achieve those goals.
"As an industry, tourism has many components comprising the overall tourism experience … tourism-related businesses, agencies and organizations must work together to package and promote tourism opportunities," Richards said in the introduction to the Tourism Department plan titled "To Maintain and Increase Cruise Ship Calls."
St. Croix Alive acknowledges this partnership in practice, making reference to its work with police and the V.I. Justice Department in efforts to increase tourist safety and its collaborations with Tourism to increase safety and develop cultural tours and demonstrations.
The SCA plan states: "The Virgin Islands Police Department, USVI Department of Tourism and members of the St. Croix Alive Zero Crime Tolerance committee have made significant strides in identifying and implementing some of our initiatives. Our goal is to make St. Croix a safe island for both residents and visitors."
Both plans hype heritage tours
After that, opinions differ on priorities for improving cruise ship visitors' experiences. According to Richards, the first thing to do is heal the black eye St. Croix got as a destination when Carnival Cruise Lines and Holland America Line pulled their ships from stops at the island.
"Public relations is one of the tools which can be used to address the problem which St. Croix faces. Public relations efforts can [be used not only] to promote the destination to tourists, but also to promote the value of tourism to the community as a whole," Richards said in her introduction.
St. Croix Alive put its focus on product development, calling its plan "St. Croix — the GEM of the Caribbean."
The SCA plan's authors do not claim full credit for the concept of marketing the island as a heritage destination rich in culture, but they do promote the potential for building a local tourist industry around it: "The long-term objectives of our plan will be to ensure larger capacity and quality tours and to monitor the success and revenue potentials of our products for both our tour operators and tour brokers and our cruise line partners."
According to the plan, "The primary focus of new tour product development will be to develop tours that support our theme and have larger capacities for greater revenue potentials."
The SCA immediate game plan calls for scheduled activities and tours from 8:30 a.m to 2:30 p.m, including a passenger welcoming party, shopping, driving and walking tours, and cultural performances. Uniformed GEM greeters would be stationed in strategic locations to direct passengers to the various activities.
The Tourism Department plan supports the idea of St. Croix making its mark as a destination and goes one step further, saying the local tourist industry must broaden its base of stakeholders. To this end, a component of the proposed public relations campaign is being aimed at the community at large, promoting courtesy toward visitors and encouraging private citizens to take part in island beautification.
Richards proposes a "St. Croix Cultural Day" for cruise visitors, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The day would include dockside entertainment, heritage tours of historic sites, and cultural demonstrations in Buddhoe Park and at Fort Frederik Museum.
She also pitches a recreation program aimed specifically at cruise ship crew members: "A happy crew will anxiously look forward, with anticipation, to a return call to St. Croix. To ensure this aim, the Virgin Islands Government has arranged for various sporting activities and games to be available for interested crew members' participation."
Differing approaches to combatting crime
The two proposals again speak with a single voice on the need to address the issue of crime, but, again, there are differences in approach. Repeated instances over months of crime against passengers and crew members was the reason given by Carnival for pulling two large ships, the Triumph and the Victory, that had been making semi-weekly calls at Frederiksted.
Both St. Croix Alive and the Tourism commissioner say the development of an effective crime-fighting strategy is a do-or-die proposition if St. Croix wants to keep Royal Caribbean ships calling at Frederiksted. Richards calls for revitalization of the Tourist Oriented Policing (TOP) patrol program that was started in 1994.
"The re-establishment of Tourist Oriented Policing will play a crucial role in assisting visitors to ensure they are well-informed as well as maintain their regular 'alert and aware' behavior while visiting the islands," Richards' plan states. "TOP officers utilize marked vehicles and are available to tourists who visit our islands. They are trained to be sensitive to the needs of cruise ship visitors."
Richards' plan states that the Tourism Department has solicited the assistance of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in his new role as a security consultant for help in developing crime-reduction strategies.
The SCA plan says "amen" to these two crime-fighting measures while also expressing support for other initiatives, including installing surveillance cameras in Christiansted and Frederiksted, pushing for the repair of broken street lights, and helping the Police Department find funds for improving radio communications.
The business group says it wants to augment the police presence among tourists with specially trained safety hosts and to provide enhancements for beach and bicycle patrols that would be deployed whenever a cruise ship calls.
Tours, more tours, plus a theme park
Both plans call for cleaning up and enhancing the Columbus Landing historical site at Salt River as one way to add dimension to the tourism experience. The SCA plan says the group has sought funding from the Federal Economic Development Authority for a St. Croix theme park.
"The park will be consistent with our theme of displaying our history, culture and traditions from our diverse heritage," the business group said.
The SCA plan also calls for arranging tours of Government House in Christiansted and incorporating a Heritage Trail Tour developed by the St. Croix Landmarks Society.
To enhance the quality of existing tours, St. Croix Alive is proposing extensive training for the islands' tour operators. "The success or failure of a particular tour or implementing a plan is how familiar the person is with the subject," the plan states. "All tour operators will be trained for all GEM Tours. SCA and GEM Tours will evaluate every tour
it sanctions and certify every tour director."
Now, half a month after the two plans were submitted, a St. Croix Alive spokesman says the group is still waiting to hear back from Royal Caribbean. "The only feedback I've gotten so far is that they've received it," said Hugh Dalton, a member of SCA Marketing Committee and acting secretary for the group.
Dalton said the RCCL executive to whom their proposal was sent has spent the last few days in Cancun, Mexico, taking part in a regional tourism conference.
He said he thinks the Tourism Department has heard back from Royal Caribbean. Richards did not return a call seeking further information.
Dalton said he expects to learn more about the government's proposal at the next Senate Government Operations Committee meeting, set for Sept. 27. At that session, Sen. Emmett Hansen II, the committee chair, is expected to ask Tourism officials to describe their plan for marketing St. Croix for the coming tourist season.
"They have a good idea for the welcoming party. We just want to make sure nothing falls through the cracks," Dalton said.
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