PREMIER OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS
AND MINISTER OF FINANCE, HONOURBLE ANDREW A. FAHIE
25 JUNE, 2021.
BVI TOURISM RECOVERY REMAINS ON TRACK
Good day and God's Blessings to all the people of the Virgin Islands and beyond.
Through the Grace of Almighty God, our humble Virgin Islands continues to weather the COVID-19 storm.
Indeed we welcome the good news that the United Kingdom yesterday updated its categorisation of the Virgin Islands by including it on the green list for travel.
The UK uses a traffic light system, with countries on the green list considered as safe to travel to and having the lowest restrictions for return.
Also, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has categorised BVI as Level 1: Low Level of COVID-19 in the British Virgin Islands.
The Virgin Islands’ handling of the pandemic has received international recognition from the United Nations Development Programme.
We give God thanks for these important milestones.
We will not be complacent; we will remain vigilant.
Remember, we were able to quickly to shut our borders last year to protect its people. Thanks to everyone’s commitment to the COVID-19 health and safety protocols, a very robust and strict local testing regime, and ongoing vaccination programme, we’ve been able to successfully reopen our borders to welcome international guests.
Thanks to your cooperation, the hard work of our health professionals, Ministerial team, legislators in the House of Assembly, public officers across the civil service and all our stakeholders and with God by our side, we strive to keep it so.
Our tourism industry is opening up more and more daily. Bookings for land properties and charter boats continue to increase. Visitors are returning in increasing numbers, providing jobs for our people across the spectrum of the tourism industry – from taxi and tour operators, to our hotels and charter companies, and our bars, restaurants and food vendors.
The BVI is moving forward in the midst of the worst pandemic to hit the world in over 100 years.
As I continue to provide bi-weekly updates on the work of your Government, the progress of our economy and other matters of interest to you the public, I want to remind everyone that we in the Virgin Islands and the rest of the world is not out of the woods with COVID-19 as yet. We must remain vigilant. We must continue to practice all approved social measures such as, but not limited to wearing masks, washing our hands for at least 20 seconds regularly, among other measures. In addition, your Government strongly encourages persons who are not vaccinated as yet to rush to do so by 3rd July, 2021 to ensure your second dose.
Vaccines and protocols are making it easier to do business and to travel, but vigilance remains imperative in blocking the spread of the virus from one country to another and among persons within communities.
As a top destination for travelers with effective protocols and low infection rates, the BVI remains highly attractive to visitors. And we must keep it so by doing the simple but essential things such as continuing to wear our masks, sanitising our hands and frequently touched surfaces, and maintaining social distancing.
We must also be protective and proactive by ensuring that we encourage everyone to follow the protocols.
I wish today to share with you some current data provided to me by the BVI Tourist Board, the BVI Airports Authority and the BVI Ports Authority, as it relates to the re-energising of our tourism industry since your Government re-opened our international borders at the Terence B. Lettsome International Airport in December 2020, reopened the Road Town Ferry Dock for international travelers in April, 2021, and further revised our entry protocols in June 2021.
Rising Tourist Arrivals
According to the data from the BVI Airports Authority received on the 23rd June, 2021, 17,622 passenger arrivals have been recorded at the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport since December 2020. Of this number, 3,962 passengers were residents and 13,660 were non-residents or visitors.
May 2021 and June 2021 have been particularly active in terms of visitor arrivals. In May 2,518 visitors entered the Territory. And the month of June still has one week to go, but already we are just short of 3,000 visitors – with one week in the month left to go.
You would recall that the Road Town Ferry Terminal began receiving travelers from the US Virgin Islands mid-April, 2021. The BVI Ports Authority has reported that non-resident arrivals at Road Town since the reopening of the sea border has totaled 3,839 persons.
These numbers have been climbing steadily and the increases coincide with the various initiatives such as the reduction of the BVI Gateway entry fees and no quarantine period for fully vaccinated travelers.
It is interesting to note that residents of the Virgin Islands are also benefitting from the revised protocols and fees, as we have noted an increase in departures and arrivals by residents in the last two months.
At the ferry ports, 1,705 residents have departed the Territory have been recorded since the reopening in April, and 972 residents have entered through the sea ports. In May 2021 departing residents totaled 395 passengers at the sea port and the figure so far for June is 459.
Total departures at the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport for March 2021 was 1,501. Departures by aircraft in April was 1,935 and the figure for May was 2,081. June figures are expected to be higher.
All of this translates to revenue for the Territory. All of this translates to business for our taxi operators and other service providers. I am advised that the demand for rental vehicles is growing once again.
But the good news does not end there.
The BVI Tourist Board has reported an increase in bookings and guests for the upcoming months to date:
These are statistics provided by the BVI Tourist Board:
- Boats – 157 bookings and 899 guests
- Land accommodation - 657 bookings and 1,392 guests
- Boats – 148 bookings and 843 guests
- Land accommodation - 610 bookings and 1,196 guests
- Boats – 33 bookings and 220 guests
- Land accommodation - 368 bookings and 596 guests
But, these figures were captured before the reduction of the BVI Gateway fee and the revision of the quarantine protocols for fully and partially vaccinated travelers in Mid-June, and before the opening of the ports on Sopher’s Hole, West End; Dog Hole, Jost Van Dyke, and St Thomas Bay, Virgin Gorda, as fully vaccinated ports of entry on 17th June, 2021.
These adjustments, according to the feedback from the BVI Tourist Board, have created excitement among our Puerto Rican guests who love to come sailing in the BVI waters.
The BVI Tourist Board has reported that with the significant increased activity on the BVI Gateway portal that has been realised, and out-reach from the industry, there is optimism that we will have a formidable summer with a strong resurgence of bookings from October 2021 through May 2022.
BVI tourism is moving forward, and we are pressing into overdrive as I had alerted you some weeks ago that we would.
Any improvement from where we were since COVID-19 – the worst pandemic in the world in the last 100 years - is a remarkable success. For this we say TO GOD ALONE BE ALL THE GLORY!
And we must understand that it will take some time for the world and for the BVI tourism to get back to pre-COVID-19 levels or to surpass what it was before the pandemic began wreaking havoc on economies and lives and livelihoods. But, by working hard and working together we will.
Residents and people of the Virgin Islanders, you must position yourself to capitalise on this resurgence of BVI tourism. Do not be caught napping. Prepare yourself.
BVI Tourist Board Promotions and Initiatives
I can tell you that the Government through the BVI Tourist Board is working very hard to spread the word in the markets that the BVI is one of the most safe and best place to vacation.
The Government through the Tourist Board has been targeting advertising on print and digital platforms to showcase and bolster the BVI’s profile in the international travel media, with emphasis on sailing, reopening of properties, private villas, MICE (Meetings and Incentives) and Weddings and Honeymoons.
Because of the Pandemic, and the difficult times that persons had to endure worldwide with the restrictions on travel, the theme in 2021 for advertising worldwide is “Something to Celebrate!”.
This month, the Tourist Board welcomed two very popular journalists to the Territory - JetSet Sarah, a Miami-based Caribbean travel Expert and award winning travel journalist, and Coco Rocha, a Model and travel influencer, who are showcasing our destination to thousands.
BVI Tourist Board is also engaged in marketing and PR opportunities in the United States, United Kingdom and Europe.
The Tourist Board has also executed three campaigns to assist the industry. These campaigns are as follows:
- Her MOMents- A Mother’s Day Promotion to encourage restaurant patronage and the culinary sector
- DADventures – A Father’s Day Promotion to encourage patronage of adventure tour activities
- Staycation- An annual Campaign that runs from June-November yearly that encourages patronage of the industry by locals and neighboring territories like St. Martin, U.S.V.I. and Antigua. To date 40 businesses have signed up and the campaign has been rebranded to generate excitement.
The next major campaign will be BVI Food Fete which includes the sorely missed Anegada Lobsterfest in November 2021.
We are exploring the feasibility of hosting a Summer Music Fest or Sailing Event in 2022 to further boost the tourism product, but these ideas are in the early stages and as the details are being fleshed out while ensuring our safety, we will keep you informed.
The Sales Team in the USA has been actively engaged in virtual events and plans are afoot with the reopening of the world to execute marketing initiatives.
The Government of the Virgin Islands through the BVI Tourist Board has also completed several projects in anticipation of the reopening of the Territory. These include:
- The North Sound Post Office (North Sound Virgin Gorda/Rebuilt Historical Site)
- Three (3) Lookout Platforms on Virgin Gorda and one (1) on Anegada
- Installation of Hammocks on White Bay, Jost Van Dyke
Several other projects are also in progress, including:
- Picture taking signage on Jost Van Dyke, Virgin Gorda, Tortola, and Anegada
- The Carrot Bay Cultural Village
- Hiking Trail on Anegada
The Tourist Board’s Product Department is also planning to roll out the following before the end of the year:
- A hospitality rating system to monitor the level of hospitality in the Territory. This will be one of the few in the region that will enable the BVI Tourist Board to monitor and assess the level of hospitality in the region and rectify issues quickly.
- Reinstate the BVI You’re Beautiful Campaign. A campaign designed to focus on keeping the islands clean.
As you can see, a lot of work has been done. A lot of work is being done. And, a lot of work is planned for the future, to keep us pushing BVI tourism into overdrive and by extension our economy.
Your Government and all our agencies are working to ensure that the BVI stays ahead of the competition, that we continue to surpass our visitors’ expectations, and that we continue to capitalise on the opportunities that are out there so that we can bring benefit to our people.
We have been doing well so far, but we have to stay the course.
We have to keep working together.
Good things are happening and we need to remain laser focused.
Our harbors are filling up once again. Bookings are increasing at a time of the year that used to be the slow season. Visitor arrivals are increasing at the air and sea ports. Taxi operators, restaurants and other vendors are seeing a resurgence in business.
We have come this far through praying, also by working together, and we need to continue working together so that we can keep the BVI on the path to a healthy recovery from COVID-19 – the worst pandemic to hit the world in over 100 years.
We must keep pushing the BVI economy into overdrive.
In so doing we also focus on other areas to further strengthen our economy.
TRC Licence Renewals
Your Government continues to be focused on transforming the Virgin Islands into a leading regional economy through entrepreneurship, innovation and local and foreign investment.
An important part of the infrastructure needed to deliver this vision is reliable, affordable and technologically competitive telecommunications.
You would recall that in recent months, and more so in the past few weeks, I have been providing reminders and updates on the renewal of telecommunications licences.
In a nutshell, licences for all the operators in the BVI are set to expire next year. The legislative framework that guides the industry and the process requires that operators within the Territory must apply for the renewal of their licences one year before the expiry date of their licence.
Since the licences of the various service providers were issued on different dates, they expire on different dates, and it follows that they would have to submit their applications by different deadline dates.
So far, Cable & Wireless (BVI) Limited (Flow) and Caribbean Cellular Telephone Limited (CCT) have reached the stage for submitting renewal applications and they have done so.
The other two companies in the local market will approach their one-year window for renewal applications in the next few weeks.
The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) is obligated to give notice to the public within ten (10) days from the date at which the application was received.
The Commission has issued a notice in relation to each of the two licensee’s applications received – FLOW and CCT.
The notice allows any interested third party the opportunity to comment on or object to the application.
Any such comments or objections must be filed with the TRC on or before 30 July, 2021.
Furthermore, the Commission has indicated that its Evaluation Report, which must be sent to each licensee within 90 working days from the date of receipt of their application, will be sent to Flow and CCT, respectively, on 30 September, 2021.
Continuing with the official renewal process, the Commission will host a public hearing at Maria’s by the Sea on 12th October, 2021, during which Flow and any third party with a legitimate interest may make comments or objections on the application.
The TRC is obligated to conduct this exercise within ten (10) working days of the date of publication of the Evaluation Report.
The public hearing in relation to CCT will be held on 13th October, 2021.
Participation in both hearings will be limited to those persons who filed a relevant comment or objection on the application with the Commission in response to our notices.
Following these processes, the Commission will consider whether or not to renew the two service providers - Flow and CCT, and its decision in this regard will be issued within 120 working days of, or no later than one year after, the date of their application.
Applications for renewal of unitary licences for BVI Cable TV Ltd and Digicel (BVI) limited are due to be submitted to the Commission by 28 June, 2021, and 16 December, 2021, respectively.
In addition to the foregoing, the Commission continues to consider areas for amendment of the licence and the appropriate methodology and fee for licence renewal.
We are hopeful that once this entire process is complete, the Commission will be fully equipped to better regulate the industry, so as to encourage systematic development of telecommunications in the Territory and ensure that the public’s interest is protected moving forward, that we position the BVI for further diversification of the economy, and equip the Territory to truly compete in the digital age.
The TRC is also working to ensure that the Territory has digital communications technology that is needed in terms of speed and capacity, to support a modern economy.
Our digital economy hinges on these actions. The success of e-Government hinges on these actions.
You would recall that your Government has already passed a suite of e-Government legislations that are in the process of being enacted, and once these come into place residents will be able to access the different services in Government online.
So, you will be able to stay from Jost van Dyke or Anegada or Virgin Gorda or anywhere in the world and do business with the Government of the Virgin Islands online. This is progress!
And again, I want to remind all residents that as your Government continues to push the throttle for taking the economy into overtime and creating opportunities to enhance your lives you must prepare and position yourself.
These initiatives that are in the works will generate opportunities in multiple sectors.
Your Government has already advised of the progress being made to bring at least two medical schools to our shores in the near future. These will provide opportunities for training, opportunities for accommodation, opportunities for other services.
As a people of the Virgin Islands, we must feel proud of our achievement.
The 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season is once again upon the region, bringing with it a heightened risk of tropical storms. We pray that we would not see any storms on our shores, but we should also BE READY and work together to STAY READY.
This is graduation season and I must pause at this time to say congratulations to all graduates, your families, your teachers, and mentors from your Government and to say we are indeed proud of you on another milestone achieved! You have put in your long hours of study, now you are reaping great success and we celebrate with you. We pray that all of you continue to succeed as you move forward.
I look forward to coming back to you in another two weeks’ time and providing you with another update on the work of your Government. In BVILove I say, may God continue to bless and protect these Virgin Island and her people.
I thank you.