DR. the HONOURABLE NATALIO D. WHEATLEY
PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE
6 JANUARY, 2023
ONE ON ONE – UPDATE TO THE PEOPLE
Good morning to all the people of the Virgin Islands; persons present and those joining us on the airwaves and via the Internet, and members of the media.
Let me once again extend wishes for a Happy New Year to everyone. May you be safe, healthy and happy in 2023 and may the new year bring you prosperity.
I also take this opportunity to extend sympathies to those of us who have lost loved ones recently and we ask for God’s blessings and favour upon the dearly departed.
Joining me this morning is Minister for Education, Youth Affairs and Sports and Territorial At-Large Representative Honourbable Sharie B. de Castro, who will provide us with an update on matters under her portfolio.
But before I invite Honourbable de Castro to deliver her opening statement, I wish to touch briefly on a few matters of my own.
Visit to the USVI
On 2 January, 2023, I had the privilege as Premier to lead a delegation to St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands to the second term swearing-in of Governor Albert A. Bryan Jr and Lieutenant Governor Mr Tregenza A. Roach, following the recently held gubernatorial elections in the USVI. The BVI’s delegation included Deputy Premier and Minister for Communications and Works Hon Kye M. Rymer and Minister for Natural Resources and Labour Hon Melvin M. Turnbull.
As you know, the BVI and the USVI historically share a close bond and friendship. And we have had a good relationship with Governor Bryan’s administration. It was therefore important for the BVI to convey our congratulations to Governor Bryan and Lieutenant Governor Roach on their reappointment, which we did.
We also took the opportunity to extend condolences to the people of the USVI on the recent passing of the late former Governor Dr. Roy Lester Schneider, and to remember the late former Governor Dr. Charles Wesley Turnbull, who also passed recently. Dr Turnbull was a descendant of the Virgin Islands. Both Dr Schneider and Dr Turnbull also ensured that the BVI and the USVI had a friendly and productive relationship.
Upcoming official visit to the UK
In a week and a half, I will travel to the United Kingdom to advance the economic, political and environmental interests of the Virgin Islands.
On the agenda are financial services, investment and environmental partnerships.
I will also meet with our students and citizens in the United Kingdom to hear their concerns and ideas.
The visit will also be my first official opportunity to meet Minister for the Overseas Territories Lord Goldsmith, as well as engage the BVI All Party Parliamentary Group and other UK parliamentarians who have an interest in the Virgin Islands.
The occasion of my visit will also be an opportunity to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the BVI London Office that was the successful vision of the late Premier and Minister of Finance, the Honourable Ralph T. O’Neal, OBE.
I look forward to updating the public on the outcome of the visit upon my return.
Back at home, preliminary feedback suggests that the 2022-2023 tourist season is off to a positive start.
Incoming visitors for Nov 2022 totaled 17,523 compared to 10,759 in 2021, and incoming belongers totaled 5,834 in November 2022 compared to 2,986 in 2021.
Incoming visitors for Dec 2022 totaled 23,427 compared to 18,098 in 2021, and incoming belongers totaled 7,223 in December 2022 compared to 4,984 in 2021.
We saw a lot of activity, especially during the holiday period.
For instance, the Terrance B Lettsome International Airport was very busy with flights coming in and going out. We saw a lot of jets parked at the airport. The sea port in Road Town was also very busy. The Old Years parties at Trellis Bay, Jost Van Dyke and other venues attracted huge crowds, particularly compared to recent years.
The Director of Tourism, Mr Clive McCoy, has advised that this year we will continue to see a lot events on the calendar, and these are going to get bigger and better as recovery in the global tourism and travel sectors continue following the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic impacts of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
The Director has also advised that the BVI Tourist Board will be focusing as well on training in hospitality and other related areas in the industry, especially to improve customer service and visitor experience; and this will be possible as the tourist board has been allocated approximately $10 million in the 2023 Budget.
Improving Visitor Arrival Experience
As I speak about visitor experience, this has been an area of focus at our air and sea ports.
At the Road Town Jetty, we have our Port Ambassadors program which was started some years a back. It is designed to assist arriving and departing travelers through the respective processes.
On arrival they are welcomed by these greeters, who also check if their forms are filled out correctly and answer questions arriving visitors may have. For departure, the ambassadors will guide visitors through process of departure tax, security and again assist with questions guests may have about departure process.
This service was affected by the pandemic, and in a short while the service will be restored at our other major ports.
At the sea ports, International Ferry arrivals are also being spaced apart to reduce passenger congestion on arrival and to assist in reducing the time passengers spend for clearance with immigration and customs.
The BVI Ports Authority is also planning some beautification projects that will further enhance the visitor experience.
As regards to the BVI Airports Authority (BVIAA), Managing Director, Mr. Kurt Menal and his team also have a number of new initiatives in store to enhance the experience for travelers – both visitors and residents, and to make our airports a preferred and convenient choice for travelling into and out of the Virgin Islands.
With the support of the Minister of Communications and Works, Hon. Kye Rymer and his team and the Chairman of the BVIAA Board of Directors, Mr. Theodore Burke and his team of board members, it is expected that improved customer service will enhance and elevate the travelers’ experience at all three airports - the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport, the Taddy Bay International Airport and the Auguste George International Airport.
BVIAA’s main aim is to improve customer satisfaction, which includes travelers, vendors and concessioners. Satisfied customers help to improve their business, which in turn allows the Authority and its commercial partners to be able to sustain themselves.
Plans are afoot to enhance the facilities at the Terrance B. Letttsome International Airport, such as the arrival and departure halls by expanding these spaces to make them more comfortable and relaxing. Work has begun to upgrade the Hand Baggage Search machines. This upgrade will allow for passengers’ bags to be processed more efficiently and reduce the time spent at the security checkpoint.
The Customer Care Unit aims to launch its BVIAA Customer Care Programme soon. This programme entails focus on Guest Love, Facility Love, and Staff Love. Guest Love aims to elevate service delivery. Through the Airport Council International’s (ACI) Airport Service Quality (ASQ) Programme, the Customer Service Team’s strategy will be data-driven and constantly benchmarking against other airports of similar size regionally and internationally.
Facility Love aims at delighting guests with a clean environment and Staff Love aims to train, educate, reward and recognize current and new staff.
Finally, the BVIAA is engaged in a spatial planning exercise to accommodate additional businesses to increase and diversify the offerings to match the needs of the range of airport users.
I take this opportunity to commend the Ministry of Communications and Works, BVIAA Board of Directors, Management, and the entire staff, vendors and concessioners, and others I may have inadvertently left out, for their hard work in improving the service at our airports.
These plans fit very well with other initiatives that are taking place. For instance, last month the Government signed the Memorandum of Understanding with the Caribbean Community for Advance Passenger Information Sharing (APIS). What this allows is that before a flight or a sea voyage leaves an air or sea port respectively, the passenger information is sent ahead to the destination country so that the necessary security screening can be performed before the aircraft or vessel departs.
This speeds up the time spent at immigration. It also flags persons who may be inadmissible for entry to the destination country before they leave their port of origin. This reduces the burdens associated having to deny persons entry – especially in the case of persons who for whatever reason are already inadmissible.
The RATED Programme
On another note, the RATED Programme, which we launched in November 2022, is progressing with implementation.
A number of persons have applied for the programme and we have already been able to put persons to work in areas such as the much-needed beautification of our roadsides. So, some persons have been able to obtain short-term employment, and the public has been able to get some benefit in return.
And, let me just remind the public as to why the bush on the roadsides became so overgrown oer the last few months. Procurement has come under scrutiny and one of the concerns raised was the way in which the bush-cutting contracts were being issued. So, we had to halt the issue of those contracts which supplemented the labour force for roadside maintenance.
We were left with a gap while a new system was developed and implemented to get this work done. The RATED Programme is a lot more transparent and will allow more persons to benefit from these kinds of opportunities than under the previous system.
In the upcoming weeks and months, we will be moving forward with implementing the other aspects of the programme, such as the training and apprenticeship. I therefore want to continue to encourage persons to register their interests for the RATED Programme, so that as the other components come on stream they will already be in the database – because applicants will be selected on a first-come first-served basis. And I want persons to bear in mind that the RATED Programme is not just for roadside maintenance and beautification. It is for other types of opportunities as well, so please register your interests – and registration will help us to identify what types of jobs and skills development are in higher need than others.
Finally, I want to advise the public that preparations are underway for the publication of a tender for road repair works through the Fat Hogs Bay to Paraquita Bay Road Improvement Project. The tender notice is expected to be published next week, and once the various stages of the procurement process are complete, work will begin.
This project will bring relief to persons who commute between East End and the Road Town area via that route.
With these few words, I would now invite the Minister for Education, Youth Affairs and Sports Honourbable Sharie B. de Castro to give us her opening remarks, and then the media will be invited to ask questions.
I thank you.