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National Broadcast About St. John Murder Prompts Tourism Concerns

Aug. 1, 2007 — Tuesday's FOX News story about the June 19 stabbing death of short-term St. John resident James Cockayne was a hot topic at Wednesday's Tourism Department budget hearing at the Legislature.
The FOX News report aired during "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren." Cockaynes' parents have complained that police failed to keep them updated on the investigation's developments.
Sen. Liston Davis kicked off the questioning on the Fox News story by noting that only when a white person is murdered in the Virgin Islands does the national media pay attention.
When he asked Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson Doty if the attention stemmed from Cockayne's parents going to the national media, she responded yes, but said she had not been contacted by the national media.
Sen. Ronald Russell followed up by asking Doty if she knew how damaging the report will be.
"How do you counteract that?" Russell asked. “Do you have a plan?”
Doty said she has put in motion a public-relations strategy to counteract the negative press: "We have a crisis plan in place.”
The department receives daily reports from the company's public relations company, M Booth, concerning mentions of the territory in connection with crime in the mainland media, she said. Doty said she has been in contact with Police Commissioner James McCall, and noted that the police department is aggressively trying to solve the case.
Russell also wanted to know if she saw the onslaught by mainland media coming.
"About two weeks ago," she said. Doty noted that other Caribbean destinations with crime problems, such as Jamaica, combat that problem by aggressively marketing the destination.
Russell also asked about her strategy for dealing with a recent Wall Street Journal article about the senators and "a certain radio host" — presumably St. Croix radio personality Roger W. Morgan. Some stories are better left to die, Doty said.
Sen. Carlton Dowe called on more "boots on the ground" to protect visitors and residents.
"Especially for Mr. Morton and anybody locally," he said, referring to the July 28 murder of Government House aide Alvin Morton.
Doty and her team were at the Legislature to defend her 2008 fiscal year budget of $4.4 million. Of that figure, $3.7 million comes from the General Fund and $650,000 from the tourism revolving advertising fund. It amounts to a 4.3 percent increase over the previous year, she said.
The government needs to address its aging tourism product in order to remain competitive with other destinations, Sen. Basil Ottley said. He has received complaints from merchants on Charlotte Amalie’s Main Street that the traffic and downtown aesthetics are impacting their sales.
Doty also discussed a phased-out closing of five of the six stateside tourism offices because they aren’t effective, but Sen. Neville James implored her to keep them open. He spoke about how important they were in getting the word out about the territory after 1989's Hurricane Hugo.
Sales representatives will work from home, Doty said. They've been trained and will now spend their time visiting travel agents, she said.
"They will be required to make 72 sales calls a month," she said.
Plans are afoot to open an office in Denmark because of the Danes’ interest in visiting their former colony, especially St. Croix, Doty said.
Additionally, she said, the Italian office, staffed by a contractor, is a good investment because Italians spend freely and stay longer than other visitors. The office in England is being evaluated because results fluctuate, she said. She also noted that Canada is a good market for meeting and incentive trips.
Confusion over the passport issue has impacted the territory's tourism industry, Doty said. Visitors to the Virgin Islands do not need passports, but those to other Caribbean destinations do.
Doty also said the decline in the stateside housing market is impacting the number of visitors to the territory because many people have less disposable income.
As usual, this budget hearing had its entertaining moment. Sen. James Weber pointed out that the Senepol cattle raised on St. Croix don't get much play despite the fact their semen is a huge industry.
"We have no expert in marketing bull semen," Doty said, laughing.
In attendance at Wednesday’s meeting were Sens. Weber, Dowe, James, Davis, Russell, Terrence "Positive" Nelson and Juan Figueroa-Serville. Ottley and Sen. Louis Hill, who are not committee members, also put in appearances to ask questions.
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