Aug. 11, 2006 – The jury is still out on how Thursday's airline travel disruption will affect the territory's tourism industry this fall.
"It's too early to tell," Tourism Department marketing director Steve Bornn said Friday.
On Thursday, British officials announced they apprehended a cadre of people planning to blow up airplanes flying between England and the United States. Subsequently, the Transportation Security Administration stopping allowing liquids and other materials to be carried on board, and the sudden shift in policy caused huge bottlenecks at airport security clearance.
Additionally, many flights were cancelled or delayed, which created more chaos at airports around the world.
Beverly Nicholson, president of the V.I. Hotel and Tourism Association, said that in the short term, some people will stop flying. However, she said that in the long run, Americans will keep flying despite what may turn out to be increased inconveniences.
She said that travelers seem to adjust to each new change in security procedures.
"We have been changed as a traveling public since 9/11," she said.
Nicholson said it will be difficult to tell whether the drop off in visitors during the fall months is normal or a result of Thursday's foiled bomb plot.
She said that right now, with the exception of St. John, it looks like occupancy rates will run at about 50 percent during the fall on St. Thomas and St. Croix. She said that was about the same as last year's fall season.
Bornn said that the Divi Carina Bay Hotel on St. Croix looks to run at about 70 percent.
Nicholson said that St. John should remain strong throughout the fall. However, she said renovations at Caneel Bay Resort and the Westin Resort and Villas will reduce inventory.
Kay Raimondi, assistant manager at Windspree vacation homes on St. John, said that August looked pretty good for the 23 vacation villas.
"We're getting a lot of last-minute bookings," she said.
She said there are no reservations for September and most of the houses are closed. However, Raimondi said the company has three or four that it will book because they're easier to close up should a storm threaten.
Raimondi said that October and November also look good, and that in December, many of the homes are already fully booked.
Nicholson said that last-minute reservations should help increase the occupancy rate.
Both she and Bornn agreed that the key to the Virgin Islands popularity is the American flag flying overhead.
"People have a significant comfort level and this will help over the next few months," she said.
Bornn said that the territory's American status, the fact that the U.S. government controls security at the territory's two airports, the continued refurbishing at the hotels, and an upbeat mood of residents will help convince people to visit the Virgin Islands.
"And no H-word," he said, referring to the possibility of a storm.
Nicholson said that the territory's retail businesses could take a hit from the new regulations prohibiting liquids in carry-on luggage. She said that most passengers carried on their perfumes and liquors bought at the territory's duty-free stores to prevent them from breaking.
She said that stores will have to improve packaging so shoppers can put their liquor and perfume in their checked luggage.
Sara Tieben of A.H. Riise's advertising department said Friday that perfumes are packaged well enough to go in checked baggage. She also said that the store is providing more packaging material in the cardboard boxes used to carry bottles of liquor. She said those boxes of bottles can be checked as baggage.
Caravelle Hotel on St. Croix made a quick response Friday to the fact that people can't carry liquid and gel products by coming up with an honor bar where guests can help themselves to products that run from deodorant to toothpaste.
"It can be aggravating to throw out all the toiletries you bought for your vacation," Caravelle owner Sid Kalmans said in a news release.
The press release also reminded guests that nearby shops carry all those essentials that can't be packed in carry-on bags.
Travelers can still pack liquid items in checked luggage on flights to and from the Virgin Islands.
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