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Which Future for St. Croix?

Dear Source:
It's probably fair to say there is a general consensus that St. Croix needs more hotel rooms if it is to grow its tourism product, increase airline service, and successfully compete in the globally booming tourism industry. Over the last few years a parallel consensus has also emerged; one that says St. Croix's market identity should be built around its strengths – culture, heritage, and nature. This view of how St. Croix should present itself to the world is now shared by the Virgin Islands Department of Tourism, the St. Croix Hotel and Tourism Association, and a majority of Crucians. In last week's Avis article on the announcement that Disney Cruise Lines will make regular calls to St. Croix in 2009, the Commissioner of Tourism was quoted as saying "Think of all the great historical and cultural information a family can enjoy on St. Croix".
The buzz around STX these days is that the island is on the brink of a comeback and that significant development is poised to take place. Much of that buzz is centered around several recently announced large resort projects that have gambling at the foundation of their economic strategy.
A few questions come to mind when looking at St. Croix's long-term tourism development future. Can St. Croix successfully market itself as a family-oriented destination featuring its culture, heritage, and nature while at the same time trumpeting itself as a gambling oasis? Will the traveler seeking an authentic family-oriented culture, heritage, nature experience consider visiting St. Croix if most of its resorts are designed to cater to the gambling traveler? What impact has gambling had on the social fabric of the territory thus far and what will be the impact of additional gambling operations?
These are questions that need broad debate in a forum where many sectors of the community can participate and have a direct voice in shaping the future we choose for ourselves. These are issue too important to be left only to politicians whose interests often seem to be at odds with the community they represent. Crucians need to answer a simple question; "Would I rather have my children learn how to deal black jack or how to provide visitors to the island with a family-oriented experiential celebration of St. Croix's history, culture, and natural wonders?" Most Crucians I've talked to select the second option.
When I hear developers say that their proposed projects can't be profitable without gambling, it makes me wonder how all of the large hotels on St. Thomas, the Buccaneer Hotel on St. Croix, and many other well run hotels through out the Caribbean have been able to survive and prosper all these years without it. When I hear elected officials promote gambling projects and the island's culture and heritage all in the same breath, I wonder; are they following the money or the will of the community they are supposed to represent.
Up to now St. Croix's development strategy can best be characterized as the "flotsam approach" – we will take what ever washes up on our shores. If we really want to see the island develop as a world-class family-oriented culture, heritage, and nature destination, then we must actively recruit developers whose projects, from top to bottom, embody these principles. To do this we need to build a recruitment team that represents a diverse cross section of the community. Such a team, guided by open ears and a commitment to the community it represents, can find and deliver development projects that match our market niche by using our strengths – culture, heritage, nature.
Kelly Gloger
St. Croix

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