Honourable Natalio D. Wheatley, Premier and Minister of Finance
at the Sixth Sitting of the Fourth Session of the Fourth House of Assembly
21st July, 2022
Thank you Madam Speaker.
I wish to present a brief statement to this Honourable House on the work of the BVI Tourist Board (BVITB).
Madam Speaker, the term of the Board of the BVITB will expire on 31st July, 2022. As a responsible Administration, the Government of National Unity has been proactive in ensuring that there remains stable and quality leadership of this most important Statutory Body.
On 8th July, 2022, advertisements were published inviting persons who are interested in serving on the BVITB Board to submit their applications. The deadline for submission of application forms was 16th July, 2022, and we are in the process of considering applications to make selections.
The outgoing Board has been a hardworking one, and on behalf of the Government and people of the Virgin Islands I wish to thank the members for their service. I also want to thank and congratulate the Chairman, Mrs. Kenisha Sprauve, for her commendable leadership of the Board.
The BVITB is always looking at ways to improve the visitor experience and adding value to their visit. And while the pandemic prevented the outgoing Board from following through with some of its ideas, the Board did rise to the pandemic’s unforeseen challenges, and was able to complete a few projects and start others that the Board hopes will be seen to completion.
To provide some highlights of the work of the current and outgoing Board, Madam Speaker:
- The Board ensured that the BVITB has a working strategic plan to assist them in moving the organization forward on a clear path.
- The Board ensured that the BVITB was relocated to a new space which would provide employees with a comfortable environment giving them a sense of home.
- One of the first initiatives of the Board was to conduct an internal Human Resource audit for the organization. The Board saw to the updating of the HR Policies to ensure a fair and level playing field for all staff members.
- During the handling of the pandemic the BVITB partnered with the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College to design the Gold Seal Programme, which prepared the industry for welcoming guests back to our shores and to also elevate the service excellence throughout the Virgin Islands.
- Under the leadership of the Board we were able to restore Tourism during a pandemic to allow our industry partners to reach new levels of occupancy and provide locals with opportunities to create jobs within the tourism industry such as Charter companies, water taxis and concierge services to assist guests in planning their vacation.
- The BVITB ensured that guests were greeted year-round at the Road Town Ferry Terminal with steel pan music to start the guest experience on a high note. LIVE entertainment was also provided at all Ports of Entry during the busiest times of the year.
- The BVITB restored the “Smallest Post Office in the Caribbean” in Virgin Gorda.
- It renovated two lookout sites on Virgin Gorda and created a third. Equipped with a mounted telescope, these sites allow visitors to experience our magnificent hillside vistas on purpose-built platforms as their tour guides relate to them parts of the Virgin Islands story.
- Most recently, the BVITB completed not one, but four island signs, in each of our main islands. These signs have already attracted many visitors for photo opportunities and have created additional value on island tours, which is excellent for our taxi drivers and tour guides. The signs have been painted by local artists depicting historical and cultural scenes that resonate with the unique character of each island.
- BVI Flags and BVILOVE flags are being erected on the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge at Beef Island to add excitement to our visitors entering through the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport.
- The BVITB is currently in the planning stages in regards to constructing the Trellis Bay waiting area and the Carrot Bay Heritage Village to showcase the BVI’s culture, just to name a few.
- The BVITB is in the process of providing current Olympians with a stipend to assist them and also for them to assist the BVI by having them promote the destination through sports tourism.
Madam Speaker, I am sure everyone will agree that these are some commendable achievements given the challenges to the local and international tourism and travel industries brought on by the COVID-19 Global Pandemic which started in 2020.
Madam Speaker, the numbers illustrate that BVI Tourism continues to have a healthy resurgence.
The Virgin Islands welcomed over 202,000 visitors over the first four months of 2022. These comprised 140,000 cruise visitors, 60,268 overnight guests, and 1,949 day-trippers.
I am advised that the tourism off-season is changing.
Tourism Industry Partners (TIPs) are reporting positive guest numbers as far down as September - where normally the season traditionally slowed down in May or June.
The BVITB continues to promote BVI Staycation to further entice local residents, and persons from the USVI and Puerto Rico to partake in and enjoy the special offerings that will be promoted. This is intended to act as a buffer when guest numbers are not at their highest.
Events like the inaugural locally-organized One BVI Poker Run, the upcoming Christmas in July featuring our beloved "Spanish Navy", BVI Summer Sizzle and our Emancipation Celebrations are helping to extend our traditional Tourism Season to the benefit of our TIPs.
Over the past two months, with the help of the BVITB, the Virgin Islands has hosted several Social Media Influencers, each with over 500,000 targeted followers, as well quite a few travel journalists and media houses. These persons tell the story of our amazing destination in an authentic way to their followers and readers, inspiring their wanderlust.
The BVITB Marketing team will be attending Virtuoso Travel Week in Las Vegas in August and CHTA Marketplace in Puerto Rico in October, to ensure that Destination BVI remains front of mind with the luxury Travel Agents and Tour Operators who specialize in promoting destinations like the BVI.
The BVITB is planning for a major Brand Engagement for 2023 that will see Brand BVI paired with internationally recognized luxury brands and showcased across our international feeder markets.
The BVITB has officially launched its North American Sail & Stay summer campaign. The Board partnered with TravelDesk, a data-driven media solutions company specializing in multi-channel targeting strategies for this year’s campaign. The campaign will deliver precision data targeting of US Leisure travelers with a beautiful and inspiring advertising campaign. These ads will encourage bookings of packages/deals available to purchase directly from our participating partners’ websites.
To maximize our investment and boost interest in partner offerings, interested participating partners will receive a pixel for their landing page for retargeting visitors to their website. There are 11 participating partners across the various tourism sectors. A rising tide floats all boats, so even non-participating TIPs will benefit from the Travel Desk exposure.
Madam Speaker, I am advised that the incentive market is doing extremely well with many groups on the books for the upcoming summer and through 2024. We have had several total buy-outs already for the year in many of our major hotels with another full buy out third week of August. The BVI is a prime incentive destination with our multi-island destination and top of line activities.
The Romance Market is also on the rise again as couples are now getting back to in-person ceremonies instead of the Zoom weddings. We have seen many full buy outs already for the year with million-dollar weddings at major resorts on the islands. The honeymoon and renewal market are also on the rise as the pandemic has slowed down and couples look forward to their destination honeymoons.
These Niche Markets are fruitful ones for the BVI and the BVITB will continue their marketing efforts to the Incentive and Romance niche markets to increase returns.
The BVITB Team continues to liaise with various Government agencies, NGOs and industry partners to ensure when guests arrive, their vacation is flawless.
Destination Management is a key focus for the team as they traverse the destination documenting anything that might impede the guest experience; and make representations to the various Government agencies to rectify challenges identified.
‘R to the 3rd Power’ remains the theme for the 2022 customer service training focus. As the Standards and Training Team encourage businesses and employees to
- Revise - how the business is viewed by customers,
- Renew – areas where the business can improve its product and service offerings, and
- Re-engage – customers to encourage greater support.
To date, over 400 persons from Government offices, schools, mom-and-pop small business, hotels, restaurants, taxi professionals, churches, and youth groups, all tremendously benefited from the training sessions. All participants obtain a ‘Service Excellence Certificate’ from the BVITB.
As a member of the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association Partnership Programme, the destination benefited from a free Strategic Service Assessment. Stakeholders on the Zoom session included cruise agents, government agencies, and the transportation sector. The assessment identified gaps and missed opportunities in the product and service offerings. This will help guide the BVITB as they prepare their 2023 Customer Service Targets.
The BVI Tourist Board encourages businesses to make the most of these free sessions. Persons are encouraged to contact the BVITB Standards and Training Team to register.
The BVITB ‘Guest Welcome Booth’ at the Terrence B. International Airport is closed for repairs, but I am happy to update that the BVITB will have a new welcome area at the airport in time for the start of the peak season.
The refurbishment of the S. Vanessa Faulkner Botanical Garden on Anegada is underway, and will be completed by the start of the peak season as well, and refurbishment of all the lookout sites on Virgin Gorda and Anegada are underway as well.
Madam Speaker, all of this is the result of hard and dedicated work by the outgoing Board and the Management and staff at the BVITB. I once again thank them for their efforts, and through their work we can say that there is much to look forward to for our tourism industry and for the benefit of our tourism stakeholders and the economy in the weeks and months ahead and beyond.
I thank you.