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St. Thomas – The Committee of the Economic Development and Agriculture, chaired by Sen. Neville James, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Wednesday, to receive testimony on several measures including Bill No. 32-0016- an Act authorizing the Virgin Islands Port Authority (VIPA) to transfer the management and operations of the Ann E. Abramson Marine Facility on the island of St. Croix to the West Indian Company, Ltd. (WICO).

“Is it your opinion that VIPA is adequately managing and handling cruise ships at the Ann E. Abramson Marine Facility?” asked Sen. James. In response, David Mapp, Sr. Executive Director of VIPA said, “Cruise lines and VIPA’s facilities or management are not the issues. St. Croix needs to improve its shore excursion experience for their guests. This includes modern, air-conditioned buses for transporting cruise guests because that is provided by neighboring competition.”

Transferring the facility to WICO may not be conducive to the intent of the bill because of the lack of amenities offered to cruise ship passengers stated Clifford Graham, President/CEO of WICO. “One way to grow the excursion market on St. Croix is to incentivize the private sector for the development of additional excursions. Packages should include land and water tours in addition to several attractions.”

“If we are serious about increasing the number of excursions on St. Croix, we need to be serious about helping the private sector to develop and grow,” said Sen. Nereida Rivera O’Reilly, Sponsor of the bill. “There are business permits that are stalled which results in the continued lack of amenities.”

In 2015, cruise ship visitors on St. Croix totaled 159,353. Since then passengers declined to 117,138 in 2016, 32,634 in 2017 and to-date 27,665 in 2018; per statistical data provided by Senior Policy Analyst of the Bureau of Economic Development Donnie Dorsett.

Sen. Sammuel Sanes inquired if improvements can be made to the tourism product. Commissioner of the V.I. Department of Tourism Beverly Nicholson Doty stated that the critical matter remains the Virgin Islands product offering. “Cruise lines are centered around the availability and capacity of tours, shopping and dining experiences close to the port and the time required for Customs and Border Protection to clear the vessel,” added Commissioner Doty.

“The Virgin Islands needs a new tourism product because it is currently stale. On St. Thomas, the stores on Main Street are very similar. Local vendors sell unique cultural products. However, vendors are stationed at Vendors Plaza. We have to recognize the value of the Territory and what we have to offer,” said Sen. Positive Nelson.

Ultimately, lawmakers voted to hold in committee Bill No. 32-0016.

Similarly, the senators also considered and voted the following to be held in committee:

  • Bill No. 32-0096 – An Act amending Title 29, Virgin Islands Code, Chapter 12 subchapter I, sections 703, 710, and 712 relating to the employment requirements of a resident under the Economic Development Program
  • Bill No. 32-0104 – An Act to conduct a Feasibility Study on the implementation of a Composting Program in the Virgin Islands

However, Lawmakers considered and approved the following:

  • Bill No. 32-0009 – An Act amending Title 29, Virgin Islands Code, Chapter 12 as it relates to investment requirement for an Economic Development Authority Certificate