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HomeNewsLocal newsEditorial: "Local Tourist" Feedback Received

Editorial: “Local Tourist” Feedback Received

When I suggested an honest self-assessment of our islands — calling for us to act as “local tourists” and look around with fresh eyes, as if it were our first time here — I hoped to get four or five responses. I figured that would give me enough for a follow-up article.

I underestimated. A lot.

With a running document of more than 85 individual suggestions you’ve sent in so far, I’ve been trying to figure out how to organize and publish these. The only way it makes sense is piecemeal.

First off, some housekeeping:

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1. The original article published May 1 was in no way about COVID 19. Some folks will do anything to assert their will to not wear a little piece of cloth over their mouth and nose that helps stop the spread of a deadly respiratory virus. And that’s fine, I guess. Annoying but fine. You do you. Please do it away from vulnerable people, however. Yes, I mentioned mask mandates were falling away. That’s the extent of it. If you are going to drone on about how much you don’t like masks, maybe consider the people for whom they are important, or maybe consider just being quiet. Anyway …

2. That same article made mention of a waitress being much too high to do her job correctly. One reader thought I was “cannabis shaming” the woman. The reader rightly pointed out that the waitress was not responsible for the restaurant’s staffing shortage or lack of fresh food. For the record, as far as I’m concerned, adult drug use of any kind is perfectly reasonable so long as you can properly conduct your life. When someone’s recreational intoxication enthusiasm crosses over into impairment, it’s time to reassess. And that’s what the article was about, assessing.

3. The original piece specially asked you not to send rumors or accusations. Almost everyone heard that, so I’ll ask again. If you are aware of a crime, call the police. Their number is 911. If it’s the police you think are criminal, call the FBI. I don’t have their number. You’re reading this on the internet. Look it up.

4. I’m correcting typos when quoting readers’ responses. It seems like the right thing to do. Please ignore mine.

Moving on.

Many of you sent in fantastically creative improvement ideas that benefit locals and tourists alike. Well done!

One of my favorites is a custom Google Map showing every public toilet in the territory. This should exist globally. Someone do this, and I’ll write about it every chance I get. The lavatories could even be ranked and coded. Which restrooms are clean and which are nasty? Maybe some are truly public while others are in a shop or restaurant where they’ll let you use it if you buy something. When you need to go, you need to go, so anything to cut down peeing between parked cars is most welcome.

Another idea was a custom map for craft beer locations, drawing on St. Thomas’ previous incarnation as Tap Haus. Why not, but also why not custom maps for every attraction of multitude: historic buildings, where to find baobab or turpentine trees, or art galleries, or souvenirs not made in China?

A lot of people brought up junk souvenirs as a problem. One person suggested a heavy tax on any tourist trinket imported from outside the USA. “If we keep giving breaks for crap, stores will keep bringing it here and it is trashy,” they wrote.

Hard to argue with that.

A couple of people brought up calling tourists’ attention to our sore spots, advocating for so-called voluntourism. Inviting tourists to our animal shelters could help raise awareness of the problem and possibly bring much-needed donations for spay-neuter programs. Sadly, it isn’t tourists who need to take care of our animal friends but us.

One respondent suggested a dog park where volunteers could walk the animals. I’ve spoken to several dog owners separately who would LOVE a dog park. Why don’t we have a dog park?

There are loads more specific suggestions that we’ll get to in coming weeks — and months, I assume — but for now, let’s unload some of the big picture stuff you sent in. Some of it was very big picture.

One reader suggested Virgin Islanders carry, deep down in their hearts, a profound hostility, possibly because of historical traumas. Neglected for years, centuries even, the hurt needs to be recognized and addressed before healing can begin. The reader suggested empathy training for everyone in customer service roles. They also suggested employers go further to better treat their workers.

Likewise, another reader suggested raising the minimum wage or possibly creating a universal basic income. The same reader also wanted to fix the distribution system and lower consumer prices. Plenty of “what” and not a lot of “how,” but still good ideas.

Other respondents took aim at systemic barriers to fully realized participation in the tourism economy. Calling out cronyism and a lack of promotion for local and “hyper-local” opportunities, these readers said political leaders lack imagination.

“A better tourism product is predicated on political leaders’ ability to think and act outside the box. USVI and Caribbean tourism generally is the product of every wealthy ex-pat influencer willing to line government pockets for the privilege of defining our landscape and identity. The result is a tourism economy that’s totally disconnected from the hearts and minds of local people who have no participation other than a service role for a lousy wage.”

I read that a few times because I think it’s pretty good. Go ahead, read it again.

“A better tourism product is predicated on political leaders’ ability to think and act outside the box. USVI and Caribbean tourism generally is the product of every wealthy ex-pat influencer willing to line government pockets for the privilege of defining our landscape and identity. The result is a tourism economy that’s totally disconnected from the hearts and minds of local people who have no participation other than a service role for a lousy wage.”

It kind of gets to the whole point of these articles. You, my friends, are an integral part of the Virgin Islands’ culture, economy, and, for lack of better words, living history. What we do today matters in the long run. If we ignore our problems, they won’t go away. Conversely, if we fail to celebrate our successes, they might. One of those successes is you.

My plan — and I have no way of knowing if this will work, so I’m up without a net a bit — is to present some of your suggestions to people in positions to do something about them. Let’s see what takes. Watch this space.

Send more ideas, if you like, to LocalTourist340@gmail.com.

To end on a high note, quite a few people wrote in to say how much they loved the natural beauty of the Virgin Islands, how just a glance out their window or going for a walk made them happy and at peace.

Tourists started coming here because nature got it right. Then people started “improving” it. How’d we do? (Photo: Mat Probasco)

A few people wrote to ask if we were accepting comments from St. Croix. Of course! One Crucian talked about the abundance of opportunity on the island. There’s something we don’t hear enough of, right?

“St Croix has so much going for it,” they wrote.

I love it.

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