“While we acknowledge the fact that we had a challenging period last September, 2017 is gone, and with that we have a renewed sense of hope in our territory,” said U.S. Virgin Islands commissioner of tourism Beverly Nicholson-Doty at a media luncheon hosted in Miami on March 5, 2018.
Nicholson-Doty started the event on a positive note, and the good news continued to pour in as the commissioner and her colleagues shared updates from the three islands. With St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John all reportedly ready to welcome visitors again, the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism has launched a campaign to spread the word that the islands are #stillnice and have much to offer their visitors.
The Department of Tourism reports that the infrastructure on the islands has been restored; power is back; and shops, restaurants, beaches and other attractions are open. In St. Croix, in particular, Buck Island Reef National Monument and the nearby turtle nesting areas have reopened to guests, and the popular Cruzan rum distillery is welcoming travelers to tour its facilities. For the nature-loving travelers, The Virgin Islands National Park, which occupies most of St. John, is also open as the trails have been cleared and the beaches have reopened. Rental cars, a popular mode of transportation for exploring The U.S. Virgin Islands, are also available, and the ferry service between the islands has also resumed its regular schedule.
Airlift has also resumed to the islands with some airlines even increasing their offerings to The U.S. Virgin Islands. Currently, American Airlines offers two daily flights to St. Croix and two to St. Thomas. Delta Air Lines operates three flights per week to St. Croix and daily flights from Atlanta to St. Thomas. JetBlue flies once daily to St. Croix, while Spirit Airlines will begin offering flights from Fort Lauderdale to St. Croix three times per week starting May 24, 2018. Currently, Spirit offers daily flights to St. Thomas also from Fort Lauderdale.
“I’m here to tell you that we’re back. Not back to where we want to be, but back to a sense of normalcy,” said Senator Neville James of St. Croix. “We’re grateful that we have a tourism commissioner and a tourism department that understands that tourism is the goose that lays our golden egg.”
While The U.S. Virgin Islands may be back in business, one area in which the islands are still recuperating is in availability of accommodations. Commissioner Nicholson-Doty reports that the sharing economy is alive and well more than ever before now that the vast majority of hotels are still unavailable on St. John and St. Thomas. According to Nicholson-Doty hotels on those islands are taking advantage of this opportunity to refurbish and remodel their properties.
“While traditional accommodations may not be available, please know that when those units come back, they’re going to come back even better than ever,” Nicholson-Doty said.
The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas and The Westin St. John Resort Villas are scheduled to reopen at the end of this year, while the Bluebeard’s properties are projected to reopen at the end of this year or during the first quarter of 2019. St. John’s Caneel Bay will reopen 2019-2020 as will St. Thomas’ Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort. Bolongo Bay Beach Resort on St. Thomas is set to reopen at the end of June 2018. Properties currently opened include three St. Thomas properties: Emerald Beach Resort, Point Pleasant Resort, and Lindbergh Bay Hotel and Villas.
On St. Croix, The Buccaneer opened within 60 days of the hurricane’s passing and since then has opened a new restaurant, reopened one of its pool facilities, resurfaced six of its tennis courts, reopened the golf course, and have made other improvements to the property. Elsewhere on the island, several hotels are open, but are currently only housing relief workers.
“Is it going to be a sprint? Absolutely not,” said Nicholson-Doty in reference to the recovery efforts underway on The U.S. Virgin Islands. “It’s going to be a journey, but we know in the Virgin Islands that we are really resilient people, and we’re looking at this as an opportunity.”