Last year was a gloomy one for the U.S. Virgin Islands, with fewer cruise ships calling on St. Thomas and St. Croix. Yet 2013 is looking very good so far — particularly when it comes to air arrivals, which are at their highest levels since the mid-1990s.
Overall air traffic during FY 2012, which ended on Sep. 30, 2012, was up by 9.9 percent compared to FY 2011. At Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas, passenger traffic was the highest since 1994, with 700,550, while the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix handled 224,672 passengers; it hadn’t seen such large numbers since 2001.
“On a nationwide basis, the U.S. economy remains relatively stagnant as recovery has not fully occurred from the recent recession,” said a report prepared by Texas-based consultants Reynolds Smith & Hills at the behest of USVI officials. “Unemployment is at higher than normal levels. The poor economy and higher jet fuel prices have caused national air passenger traffic to decline or be flat. This makes the strong increase in 2012 Virgin Islands Port Authority aviation traffic even more remarkable.”
Projections for FY 2013 show a 1.4 percent increase in total weekly seats to St. Thomas from 17,989 to 18,246, while St. Croix’s weekly air capacity is forecast at 5,219, a 10 percent decline over the previous year. That’s a consequence of the recent closure of the sprawling Hovensa oil refinery — which put 2,000 people out of work — and the resulting cancellation of Delta’s weekly flight from Atlanta to St. Croix.
USVI Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty said she’s cautiously optimistic about tourism prospects for 2013, telling reporters that “acting to maintain airlift and spur economic growth in the territory continues to be our top priority.”
Jospeh Boschulte, president and CEO of West Indian Co., said cruise ship schedules look very good for 2013 and 2014 — especially in the summer. He told the Virgin Islands Daily News that cruise lines go where the revenue is, and that Carnival in particular is looking to reposition ships it had in the European market back to the Caribbean for the next two summers.
USVI Tourism Department spokeswoman Allegra Kean-Moorehead said that even though St. Thomas — famous for its duty free shopping — has long been the territory’s main attraction for cruise ships, the fact that cruise lines are adding St. Croix to their regular itineraries is very promising.
This season, 55 cruise ships will visit that island, nine of them for the first time. While the number of calls is two fewer than the previous year, the ships coming this year are larger and accommodate more passengers and crew.
These include Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas, Brilliance of the Seas, Vision of the Seas and Enchantment of the Seas as well as Celebrity Cruise Line’s Eclipse. In fact, Jewel of the Seas is scheduled to call on St. Croix seven times this summer, bringing up to 17,500 passengers and 6,000 crew to the island during a traditionally slow period.