Statement

Ministry of Communication and Works
Release Date:
Friday, 13 May 2022 - 4:23pm

STATEMENT BY
DEPUTY PREMIER AND MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS AND WORKS

HONOURABLE KYE M. RYMER

UPDATE ON CURRENT MATTERS AND SEATRADE GLOBAL CONFERENCE 2022
1
3TH MAY, 2022

A pleasant good day to all the people of the Virgin Islands, and may I say a special good morning to the members of the media.

It is my pleasure to join with the Honourable Premier to provide you, the public, with an update on current matters and other public interest that falls under my portfolio at the Ministry of Communications and Works.

Today, I wish to address two matters in my opening remarks. The first matter will be that of the SeaTrade conference. I am sure that many persons are interested to know about the commitments for additional cruise ship calls that we would have secured at Seatrade.

The second matter I will speak on is that of the BVI Ports Authority Miami Office, which I know is a topic that is engaging the attention of some persons in the public.

SeaTrade Cruise Global 2022

Seatrade Cruise Global 2022 was held in Miami, Florida, from 25 to 28 April, 2022.

Seatrade is the leading annual Business 2 Business (B2B) event for the global cruise industry. It brings together buyers and suppliers from 140 countries and over 300 international journalists.

It is therefore a very effective platform for building and expanding our network with the international cruise and tourism industry, marketing the Virgin Islands as a cruise and holiday destination, and promoting the destination with travel writers and publications.

The four-day Seatrade conference explores the latest trends with industry influencers and high-level cruise executives and includes the annual State of the Global Cruise Industry Keynote which is done with the chief executives of the world’s largest cruise organizations.

The exhibition is the largest gathering of the cruise industry hosting over 700 exhibiting companies from all sectors including Design and Ship Interiors, Entertainment, Environmental and Health, Hotel Operations and Concessions, Information Technology, Ports and Destinations, Safety and Security, Ship Equipment and Shipbuilding.

Seatrade is owned by Informa PLC, the largest Business 2 Business events organizer in the world, that organizes and hosts range of global exhibitions, conferences, events, awards, news websites and publications that cover every aspect of the cruise and maritime industries. 

So, one of the benefits of attending SeaTrade is that you get a more in-depth understanding of the industry trends and what passengers are looking for, so that you can pivot your strategy to attract the travellers’ interests – whether in terms of the tourism product or the marketing strategy, and so forth.

And, of course, you get the opportunity to sit and negotiate with the top decision makers in the cruise companies, and convince them that bringing their passengers to the Virgin Islands is the best.

The BVI’s delegation was led by the former Premier and included myself. Also with the delegation was then Junior Minister of Tourism, Honourable Sharie B. DeCastro; officials of BVI Ports Authority; the Cyril B. Romney Tortola Pier Park Executives and the BVI Tourist Board, and local cruise industry partners.

The delegation’s goal was to evaluate feedback from the recent cruise season as well as to gain an understanding of the outlook for the upcoming cruise season and maintain our relationships with the cruise industry partners.

  Additionally, we paid special focus on the smaller luxury cruise lines, and we held several meetings with some of them to discuss their special needs. This segment of the luxury cruise market presents a unique opportunity for the Virgin Islands, in that they stay for multiple days, and they spend time at our Sister Islands thereby expanding the economic opportunity as it relates to cruise throughout the BVI.

The demographic of these cruise guests are for the most part in line with many of our high-end stayover visitors and this is an opportunity for us to generate additional return to stay business, which will benefit a wider cross-section of our tourism industry businesses.

The BVI delegation met with several cruise associates such as: Norwegian Cruises, Disney Cruise Lines, Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean Group, MSC, Seadream Yacht Club, Windstar Cruises, Ponant Cruises, ClubMed, SAGA and Star Clipper Cruises, Virgin Cruises, Ritz Carlton Yacht Collection.

The delegation also met with several regional port partners and destination partners to discuss cooperative marketing opportunities as a region, including a meeting with the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association.  

From the discussions that took place at this year’s Seatrade Cruise Global, I am pleased to report that two new brands have confirmed calls to the Virgin Islands for the 2022/2023 season and beyond: that of Virgin Cruises and the Ritz Carlton Yacht Collection.

I am pleased to report that the expected calls to the Virgin Islands for the 2022-2023 cruise season has increased to 417 with 79 of those calls being multiple days at our Sister Islands.

In terms of guest ratings reported, the Virgin Islands’ Port and Destination continue to rate favourably amongst all cruise companies calling to the BVI, with a notable rating identified as “the friendliness of locals”.

This is something we must all be proud of, especially our tourism stakeholders who interact with thee cruise lines and passengers, and we must keep up our standards.

The BVI delegation had the opportunity in discussions to raise concerns and issues on behalf of local cruise stakeholders, such as half-day stays which the delegation relayed are not in the best interest of the cruise guests and do not allow maximum potential of both experiences and revenue. It was relayed that the cruise partner and destination vendors and stakeholders lose on these shorter stays.

The delegation also raised the potential for longer stays and overnight stays with larger lines at the cruise pier as part of the ability to operate on-board casinos due to the new Virgin Islands Gaming and Betting Control (Amendment) Act, 2021.

This presents a new opportunity, and many of the cruise lines were particularly interested in this endeavour. It is hoped that further discussions on this topic will ensue once the Gaming and Betting Commission is established with its Board appointed.

I must point out that once we are able to establish gaming as a part of our tourism product, this will create opportunities for other tourism businesses to tap into.

Our international cruise partners expressed gratitude for the ongoing positive relationship with the BVI, and especially the connection which was maintained throughout the cruise shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the efforts of the BVI team during the restart of the cruise industry.

In terms of the cruise trends and outlook, I would like to take this opportunity to share with you, some interesting statistics provided during the State of the Industry panel forum.

This information would be useful to our stakeholders in understanding what is going on with the industry and where it is expected to be heading in the more immediate future: 

1. The cruise industry expects to return to pre-pandemic 2019 passengers levels next year 2023. 

2. More than 80 percent of the world’s cruise fleet is back sailing and more than 95 percent of the global Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) fleet will restart operations by July of this year.  That is ‘CLIA’ Cruise Line International Association.  In addition, 280 ships will be sailing at that time. 

3. More than 100 countries around the world have now opened to cruise visitation including Canada and Australia. 

4. It was stressed that every 24 cruise guests the industry books equate to one full-time job. 

5. Six (6) in 10 people who have taken a cruise say that they have returned to a destination that they first visited via cruise ship. This means there is opportunity to be had by increasing the number of calls to the Virgin Islands and ensuring that all our cruise guests have a positive and memorable visit.

6. The Caribbean region remains the top cruise destination globally at 44%

7. Kelly Craighead, CLIA’s president and CEO, said that confidence is returning to the industry based on how the industry has been able to adapt to managing the pandemic. This likely due to the cruise industry’s high level of vaccinated guests and crew members. Through strong science-backed protocols and disease mitigation efforts, the industry moved beyond the initial negative perceptions.

8. CLIA’s latest market research also shows that the public’s desire to cruise is elevated right now. In fact, 69% of persons who have never cruised are open to it. This is higher than in 2019. 

9. Currently, millennials are the most enthusiastic about cruising, with 87% ready to sail. As a result, CLIA estimated that the entire global cruise fleet’s return should result in a 2023 demand that is equal to 2019 levels. On this point, I should add that we need to look at what the trends and demands are for millennials and ensure that we are positioning ourselves to attract this market. I do believe we have a product that is very attractive to this market segment. 

The panel also highlighted a strong focus on sustainability.  Details and goals for the industry's sustainability commitment and progress were presented, and it was stressed that the industry is resolved to be a leader in sustainability with CLIA’s oceangoing member lines committing to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Net zero translates to "no carbon emissions." 

Meanwhile, the cruise industry will continue to ramp up sustainability efforts with use of batteries, fuel cells and green LNG power.  One option that was raised in helping to keep port communities greener is when ships plug into the existing electric grid, rather than running their engines in port.

It was noted, that many ships are ready to receive shore power, and local communities that ships visit, are looking at and making decisions, to provide what is needed in that regard.

So, these are some of the things we need to look at as we aim to continue to grow our cruise industry and our market share.

Again, the Virgin Islands can expect 417 calls for the 2022-2023 cruise season, with 79 of these calls being multiple days at our Sister Islands.  Confidence and interest in our destination remains high.

The BVI Ports Authority - Miami Office

As I mentioned earlier, I am aware of public interest in the matter of the registration of a Limited Liability Company in the United States under the name of “The BVI Ports Authority, LLC”.

As the Minister now with responsibility for the BVI Ports Authority (BVIPA), I have taken note of the concerns and comments being expressed, and I have begun making inquiries into this issue.

To date, I have been advised as follows:

The BVI Ports Authority, LLC is a company registered in the United States in 2019 to enable the BVI Ports Authority to rent office space in the Miami area to provide an outreach location for its cruise business.

In addition, it was decided that the office space could also host the BVI Tourist Board and the Shipping Registry.  It was intended to be a multi-agency space for the purpose of marketing and promoting tourism, ship registration and perhaps in the future serve as a base in Miami for Virgin Islanders, residents and students requiring assistance while abroad.

In addition, it could potentially serve as a business hub for BVI entrepreneurs requiring office or meeting space during travel.  The office is strategically situated near to the Miami airport.  

Of note, the company was registered not to engage in any revenue generating business.  According to the advice provided, in order to establish the company, a minimum of three (3) Directors were required. The Directors names are Roxane Sylvester, Deputy Chair of the BVIPA Board; Kenesha Sprauve, Member of the BVIPA Board of Directors and Chairman of the BVI Tourist Board; and Oleanvine Maynard the Managing Director of the BVIPA. These persons are holding the shares of the company in the interest of the BVI Ports Authority.

I am further advised that due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the office has not yet been officially opened but it was managed by the BVIPA.

In 2022 the BVI Tourist Board positioned a Business Development Manager responsible for sales, marketing and promotion of tourism in the Southeast Region of United States. The space has also since been utilized for Government agency meetings whilst officials were on duty travel in the Miami area.

As Minister, I am conducting further inquiries, I have requested certain documents and information from the BVIPA, and when these are received and reviewed I will be in a better position to determine whether any further action would be required and what that action should be.

At the present moment, it would be too speculative to make any further pronouncements on the matter.  However, I give the public the assurance that whatever findings are made from the current ongoing inquiries, these will be shared with the public and I will, of course, advise the public on whatever further action – if any is necessary – is to be taken so that the public can be confident that its interests are secured.

As it relates to the Governance and management of the BVIPA, the Honourable Premier, in his statement on Wednesday, 11 May, 2022, outlined measures that are being undertaken. These include the resignation of the Chairman, efforts to compose a new Board, when the tenure of the current Board expires in a few days, steps to appoint an interim Managing Director, efforts to terminate the appointment of the current Managing Director, ensuring the continuity of service to the public and other measures to secure the integrity of the BVIPA and that of the Virgin Islands ports.

I do not propose to repeat what the Premier has said, but I do wish to reiterate my support for these measures – and the others that are in the works – so that the public’s interest is protected.

We are addressing concerns with other Statutory Boards and as we proceed with these matters, I will continue to keep the public informed.

In closing, I wish to thank the Premier for the confidence he has shown in me by appointing me Deputy Premier. I do pledge to fulfil my duties and obligations with the highest degree of honesty, integrity and professionalism.

We are working as a Government of National Unity, where Members have put aside party interests to work for the greater good of the Virgin Islands.

I am excited about the possibilities that this unified cross-party approach can have for the growth and development of our beloved Virgin Islands and for improving the quality of life of our Virgin Islanders and residents.

More can be achieved by unity than by division – not just among our politicians but throughout our society.  Therefore, I humbly invite all Virgin Islanders and residents to join hands and let us work together, with unity in purpose, to make these Virgin Islands even more better.

I thank you.