Tourism in the Virgin Islands contributes more than $1.3 billion to the territory’s economy, the Tourism Department said in a Thursday press release.
In defending the money it spends to promote the territory in numerous ways, Tourism said that between 2014 and 2015, the number of what it terms “stay-over arrivals” increased 5.3 percent. The numbers increased from 730,367 in 2014 to 769,185 in 2014.
The department credits the increase to a carefully managed strategic marketing plan that targets areas with the highest potential for return on investment. According to Tourism, the increase represents a 71 to 1 return on investment for marketing dollars spent in 2015.
"We never lose sight that the marketing dollars spent on tourism must provide the highest return on investment. This is the focus for all of us," Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty said. "We also know our community, our tourism partners, our government and many others rely heavily on our performance.
Tourism’s press release comes on the heels of published reports questioning the effectiveness of Tourism’s marketing strategy.
“The struggle for every tourism dollar is real and we consider it a threat to our territory’s economic security when grossly inaccurate and misleading information is shared in our community," Nicholson-Doty said. “We may not always get everything right, but we certainly compete head to head with larger destinations with significantly more resources than we do and win.”
Nicholson-Doty refuted any suggestion that the combined value of Tourism’s marketing efforts yields a negative return on investment.
"The value of media coverage we earned from just our public relations activities alone in Fiscal Year 2015 represented a return on investment of more than seven to one," the commissioner said, adding that "solid performance supports the tourism expenditures."
She said the $2.5 million spent on public relations resulted in more than $18 million in earned media. The $6 million spent on digital, TV, print, radio, billboards and airport advertising reached 383.5 million consumers. And she said Virgin Islands advertising drove 1.5 million visitors to the destination’s website, an increase of 111,489 or an 8 percent increase over FY14.
Additionally the department’s paid search budget of $200,000 reached 21.5 million consumers, the release said. The $249,000 spent on social media resulted in the department increasing followers on social media by 52 percent, generated 10 million direct impressions, and drove more than 25,000 potential visitors to bookable offers directly from the department’s social media posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Nicholson-Doty said Tourism’s sales teams made a combined total of 7,029 calls to travel agents and tour operators across the United States in 2015.
Lastly she said the $19.5 million in marketing resources the department spent in FY15 positioned the territory as a top-of-mind destination, which generated a combined direct and indirect economic impact of $2.2 billion.
Tourism had a raft of statistics from the V.I. Bureau of Economic Research to back up its claims.
It indicated hotel occupancy taxes totaled $25 million in 2015, representing 10.9 percent growth over 2014 occupancy taxes of $22 million.
Room nights occupied were 818,535 in 2015 compared to 785,949 in 2014.
Stay-over visitors generated $922 million in direct expenditures and cruise passengers generated $467 million in direct expenditures for a total of $1.4 billion.
Tourism contributes more than $200 million in tax revenue and accounts for 8,000 jobs, representing 30 percent of the territory’s Gross Domestic Product.
Air capacity to the territory is supported by 27,000 seats per week with capacity increasing at Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix to more than 6,000 seats per week for the first time in many years.
Nicholson-Doty said that recent long-term agreements by the West Indian Co. Ltd. and the V.I. Port Authority will strengthen year-round cruise calls.