Hoteliers and other tourism industry professionals said this week that the summer tourism season looks excellent on all three islands. “We had surprising strength all the way through the beginning of August,” said Bolongo Bay Beach Resort managing director Richard Doumeng.
Doumeng said that a lot of hoteliers had the best June and July since 2007. In 2008, the stateside economy went south and, with it, the funds for many people to take Virgin Islands vacations.
He said that room rates are recovering, and even if the occupancy rate is not up, hoteliers are getting more for their rooms.
V.I. Hotel and Tourism Association President Lisa Hamilton had statistics for June and said that the revenue per available room in St. Thomas and St. John is up 25 percent above last year. This number takes into account the occupancy rate as well as how much guests paid for the room.
She said that the average room rate was $222.26 in June 2015 compared to $177.18 last June.
The occupancy rate was 80 percent in June 2015 compared to 68 percent last June, Hamilton said.
Hamilton said that while major hotels and chains make up the bulk of the reporting hotels, their numbers are a good indicator of how things are going for everyone.
Summer business was good at the Caribbean Saloon in Red Hook, St. Thomas, according to bartender Shelby Breen. Breen said the restaurant/bar runs a lot of summer specials like a weekday happy hour with food that brings in a lot of people.
As for St. John, the island continues to boom. V.I. National Park Superintendent Brion FitzGerald said it appears to be much busier this summer than any of the other three summers he’s been on the job.
“The parking lots are filled up,” he said, referring to those at the beaches, adding that he’d gone swimming around 5 p.m. at Hawksnest Beach and only three parking spaces were available.
The park beaches are a good barometer of how St. John is doing because both overnight guests and daily guests from St. Thomas use those facilities, he said.
At St. John Concierge Service, which books sailboat trips and other excursions, owner Drew Kerr said July business was as good as it was in the busy winter months of January, February and March. However, it’s not as good as it was before the economy dropped in 2008, he said.
And Kerr said August was shaping up to be a good month but things are starting to taper off a bit.
Suzanne Crosby at Estate Lindholm Bed and Breakfast on St. John said everyone is “blown away” at how good July was.
“We had 100 percent occupancy in July. We never had that before,” she said.
Crosby said the early part of August was strong, the middle had a lull but bookings are picking up again toward the end of the month.
On St. Croix, Hamilton didn’t paint quite so rosy a picture. “St. Croix still struggles,” she said.
However, Vicki Locke, who is in charge of sales and marketing for The Buccaneer Hotel, said she’s seen lots of tourists all over St. Croix.
As for The Buccaneer, she said both winter and summer seasons were wonderful.
“It’s been a terrific family business. Many families are here with children,” she said.
Locke said the hotel also had many weddings, honeymoons and guests participating in romantic activities such as the private dinner at the sugar mill.
At the Mitchell-Larsen Studio in Christiansted, sales clerk Amy Moore said this summer seems better than last. She said last year there would be many days when they sold only one item.
“Knock on wood, we haven’t had that,” she said, noting that it seemed like the store can’t have two good says in a row.
Hamilton said the problem for St. Croix stems from lack of lift – seats in airplanes to bring people to the island.
“The ability to grow occupancy is limited,” Hamilton said.
On the flip side of that coin, Doumeng said St. Thomas is incredibly lucky to have good airlift.
He credits that in part to the presence of timeshare properties on St. Thomas. Doumeng said that when people can exchange time at a resort where they own property for a vacation on St. Thomas or stay at one they own on St. Thomas, they’re not spending money for a hotel room.
“They aren’t concerned about the price of an airline ticket,” Doumeng said.
He said vacationers heading to timeshares are keeping airlift high in the traditionally slow month of September.
Tourism Department spokesman Luana Wheatley credits summer promotions for helping to fill the territory’s hotels.
“We wanted to make sure the summer wasn’t slow,” she said.
Wheatley said, for example, the V.I. Nice promotion offers a fifth night free coupled with $350 in certificates good at local restaurants, activities and more, adding that people are influenced by advertising, and that the Tourism Department targets it to make sure it reaches the right people.
“When it’s miserable stateside, advertising kicks in,” she said, referring to last winter’s cold and snowy winter in the Northeast.
Locke agreed and said the value in the certificates that accompany the fifth night free is that the money stays on the island.
Those promotions are reaching people in places in the south and as far west as Texas and Oklahoma. Doumeng said this increased the number of African Americans vacationing in the territory during the summer months.
“It’s always been there a little but, without a doubt, we have definitely tapped into the affluent African American market,” Doumeng said.
He said that many are public employees like teachers who have the summers off or others like firefighters who traditionally get summer vacations.
“They are the hard working middle and upper middle class vacationing in the summer,” Doumeng said.
He said events like St. Thomas and St. Croix carnivals as well St. John Festival and Tortola’s August Monday attract people with Virgin Islands roots.