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Senators Told Tourism's Efforts Paying Off

Aug. 26, 2005 — In order to show senators exactly what their budget money is being used for, representatives from the Tourism Department were accompanied to the Legislature Thursday by large panel boards reflecting advertisements placed all around the world in promotion of the Virgin Islands.
Featuring life-size pictures ranging from couples on their honeymoon to visitors scuba diving at a beach on St. John, the ads included Tourism's new tag line, "Fall into America's Caribbean"—a slogan which has helped to significantly increase the amount of visitors to the territory in the past year, according to Pamela Richards, Tourism commissioner.
"These new campaigns have allowed the U.S.V.I. to broaden our appeal to a wider segment of the population and kept consumers interested in our creative executions … we believe this is why tourism numbers increased 13.2 [percent] for St. Thomas/St. John, and 28.9 percent for St. Croix," she said.
Those numbers were also a result of promotional offers introduced to various global populations through the department's offices in the United States, United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Canada, and Denmark. Contracts for these services totaled $12.6 million for 2005 and come out of the Tourism Revolving Fund, which is generated from an 8 percent hotel tax levied on visitors. Richards told senators that of the $14. 3 million in the fund for 2005, the department has spent all but about $4 million on advertising.
In one promotion package, for example, Richards said visitors coming to the islands between Sept. 1 and Dec. 14 will receive hundreds of dollars worth of savings in hotels around the territory. "This is part of our Super Savers program that was introduced in 2002, she said. "After three years of running this, we have been able to garner a significant amount of interest in the territory … new and outstanding bookings have generated at least $69,300 for us," Richards said.
A partnership with an as-yet-unidentified airline will further complement this initiative, Richards said, adding that at the end of the month, she plans to make a joint announcement with a new airline set on coming into the territory. "There will be seven-day-a-week service to St. Thomas, beginning next season. I have been told to expect a round-trip fare of $250 to the mainland."
Richards reiterated these statements to Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson when asked whether the department is considering the building of a two- to three-star hotel market to cater to low-income travelers.
"We do already have those less expensive hotels in the territory, but to make an entire market out of that … I don't think it's a good idea," Richards said. "Our islands have become a valuable product … since 9/11 people coming here want to indulge themselves, receive five-star treatment. That's where we have to go … especially for St. Croix."
Excited about progress being made throughout the department, Richards made the senators smile when talking about new initiatives designed to further brand St. Croix as the V.I.'s top culture spot. "We have been working on marketing two faces of St. Croix—one as a top destination spot, and the other as the territory's place of culture. In order to get this done, we've been doing things like sending e-mail ads to travel agents all over the world. We've sent out 52,000 of those so far this year," Richards said.
Events such as a film festival on St. Croix will also help slide the island right into a multi-billion dollar film industry. "We are still organizing this, but I feel that the festival will be a truly international event," Richards said. "It's going to feature 50 evocative films from all over the world, and anticipated attendees are film industry professionals and independent filmmakers from diverse backgrounds and visions."
In addition, Richards said that St. Croix will soon be featured on a new MTV channel called TEMPO, which is going to be broadcast across the Caribbean. "Fred Morten, one of the individuals who will have a show on this network is a Crucian, and I'm sure that he will be featuring a lot of our music and culture for the world to see. I am working hand in hand with him to get this done."
Crucian Rum will also be featured in an upcoming ad campaign to launch at Grand Central Station in New York City, according to Richards. While the campaign is geared to promote the entire territory, Richards said that money has been taken from the Rum Promotion Fund in order to for the product to have a spot. "We have also recently received money from casino revenues that will be used to promote the casinos in the territory as well."
Sen. Usie Richards was discouraged when Richards explained that only $344,000 had been collected from the casinos since 2004. "They are supposed to be giving you a portion of their revenues every year…it's pitiful that that hasn't been done," Sen. Richards said.
However, senators were encouraged by the small number of vacancies within the department, most of which had been filled prior to the department's appearance at the Legislature on Thursday.
Senators also received testimony from representatives of the V.I. Public Television System, with a budget request of $6.5 million — $2 million more than Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's recommendation.
"This past fiscal year, we were already underfunded by almost $800,000," Osbert Potter, executive director of the Public Television System, said. "The only reason we got through the year is because we had a carryover from the previous fiscal year. This time, there is no carryover."
Present at Thursday's hearings were Sens. Liston Davis, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Norman Jn Baptiste, Nelson, and Richards.

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When will we receive our tax refunds, and stimulus checks many have not received? Stop the distraction nonsense

Planning his re-election he thinks…

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he's back!

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