As more and more cruise lines lay out their plans for a return to operation, it means that popular island destinations across the Caribbean are gearing up for tourism as well. It’s been a difficult year for tourism around the world, but there’s hope that cruising’s return can help bolster the local economies of places like the U.S. Virgin Islands who rely on tourism to get by.
Joseph Boschulte, Commissioner of Tourism for the U.S. Virgin Islands, joined Porthole Cruise Magazine founder and Editor-in-Chief Bill Panoff to discuss how his islands fared during the pandemic, his thoughts on cruise ships making St. Thomas a homeport and why more and more people are flocking to the islands as tourism heats up. Check out the full interview below!
Interview with Joseph Boschulte
Recently, the Caribbean Tourism Organization reported a 2020 Caribbean-wide visitor decline of 65.5%, but the US Virgin Islands only saw a 35% reduction in visitors. Boschulte was asked why he thought his islands saw more visitors than the rest of the region. He outlined the island’s strict safety precautions as part of the reason why travelers were choosing St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix.
“A lot of that has to do with our really strong defense package we have to travelers coming into the territory via airlines. We have a travel portal in place that allows all travelers into the territory to register their contact information, their flight information, but most importantly, you have to register with a negative COVID test within five days of travel to the territory or a positive antibody test within four months,” he said.
Boschulte explained that these measures allow for people to visit with the same quarantine restrictions seen in other parts of the world. Visitors can enjoy their vacation as they normally would so long as they follow the protocols and use common-sense practices like masks and distancing when necessary which are key in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Increased Flight Offerings to the USVI’s
Boschulte was then asked about the recent news that American Airlines has expanded their flight offerings to the island and how it would impact the economic recovery.
“That has been our saving grace, quite frankly. Bill, as you know from our dealings over the years, St. Thomas especially and St. Croix have been anchor itinerary destinations for the cruise industry. As recently as 2019, we had 1.4 million cruise passengers come to the territory,” he said. “The opportunity, from our perspective, to inject life into our economy, was to increase [airline passengers].”
Losing that chunk of business when cruising shut down meant that the territories had to look elsewhere to get travelers to visit. Airlines obviously became one of the most important industries in that regard.
Boschulte was asked if St. Thomas would make a good homeport for cruise ships as cruise lines wait for the United States to reopen cruise ports. He explained that the timing just isn’t good for that right now.
“Before the pandemic I would have said we were very interested in the possibilities, particularly the smaller ships because of course you need to have the accommodations and the airplanes to make sure you can homeport. Unfortunately right now, the timing is not good for us because we are booming from overnight guest capacity, so we don’t have the accommodations to entertain the thought with any cruise line,” he explained.
Check out the full interview with Commissioner of Tourism for the U.S. Virgin Islands Joseph Boschulte below: