The U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism celebrates another successful year of participation at the annual Seatrade Cruise Global trade show. Seatrade is the cruise industry’s leading annual business-to-business event, bringing together buyers and suppliers from 140 countries and over 300 international journalists.
Seatrade stands as one of the most important annual trade shows for the U.S. Virgin Islands as the cruise industry has been a longstanding economic booster for tourists into the territory. In 2022, St. Thomas received more than 1.6 million cruise passengers through its two ports and anticipates 200,000 additional cruise passengers this year. St Croix’s Frederiksted Pier had 100,000 passengers come through in 2022 and is expecting an increase of 80% in 2023. Almost all the major Caribbean cruise lines sailing out of major U.S. ports have resumed docking in St. Thomas, which is leading to an anticipated increase of nearly 650,000 new travelers in 2023.
Along with four other industry leaders, Commissioner Boschulte participated in the event’s opening keynote panel, entitled “The State of Global Tourism: Forward Momentum, Catching Tailwinds,” which highlighted key trends and developments that have been emerging since the COVID-19 pandemic, including a great tailwind coming about from a decrease in credit card debt and an increase in savings that people now want to spend on travel. The other panelists included Jonathan Daniels, CEO and Port Director of Port Everglades; Terry Thornton, senior vice president, commercial development of Princess Cruises; Russell Benford, vice president of government relations, the Americas, for Royal Caribbean Group; and Stephen Xuereb, chief operating officer, of Global Ports Holding and chief executive of Valletta Cruise Port PLC.
Commissioner Boschulte said, “During the pandemic in June 2020, the Governor and the health team opened our borders and invited guests back, so the USVI experienced strong overnight hotel stays at that time. However, one of the biggest differences was not having the cruise ships which had been the anchor for our tourism economy for decades. Now, we are happy to report that the cruise business is back, and passenger volume is expected to reach pre-Covid 2019 levels by the end of this year.” Boschulte added, “tourism makes up 60% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the three-island Territory so its impact on the entire economy is enormous.”
Governor Bryan, Commissioner Boschulte, the Department of Tourism and the Port Authority garnered applause from Royal Caribbean Group’s Russell Benford who highlighted the strategic investments into the cruise industry to secure their place in the reemerging market share. The panel brought up other important developments that emanated from the pandemic, including the impact of changing itineraries and the impetus for increased regional cooperation in the Caribbean. “The Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) is doing a phenomenal job of ensuring the destinations in the region are not competing against one another,” Boschulte explained. “Ships don’t just sail to one destination in a region but rather to many places and therefore working together is so important to the Caribbean’s success. Together, we are making faster decisions, having more discussions, and working more closely with one another,” he said.
Over the four-day event, members representing the Department of Tourism and the Virgin Islands Port Authority meet with key representatives from the cruise industry, vendors, and media, building new relationships and fostering old ones to continue to grow the territory’s stance as a leading port within the Caribbean.