DR. THE HONOURABLE NATALIO D. WHEATLEY
PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE
13TH MAY, 2022
UPDATE ON CURRENT MATTERS
A pleasant good morning to the Virgin Islands community; those of you joining us live via the radio and the various social media channels.
I especially wish to welcome the members of the media who are with us.
Consistent with your Government’s commitment to transparency, accountability and overall keeping you informed on the work that we are doing to properly manage your affairs, I intend, as Premier, to continue the practice of holding regular press conferences to provide updates on current matters and answer questions from the media.
Over the past two weeks, we have been dealing with a number of pressing issues for the Virgin Islands, including the transition to the new National Unity Government, and we have been providing updates to the public on those matters. My last update on those matters, you would recall, was just on Wednesday last, 11 May, 2022.
While we have been heavily focused on those issues, the business of managing the affairs in other areas of Government has been continuing, and I know that persons have been interested in getting updates on what has been happening in those other areas.
Therefore, I thought this a good opportunity to provide you with a brief update on the work taking place with respect to the BVI Tourist Board and our tourism industry.
Tourism is certainly a very important area for us in the Virgin Islands because tourism is one of our main economic drivers; it creates thousands of jobs and opportunities for small, medium and large businesses; and it contributes directly to Government revenues.
From 25 to 28 April, 2022, a BVI delegation attended Seatrade Cruise Global 2022 in Miami, Florida, to promote the Virgin Islands’ interests in the cruise industry and to secure additional business in this sector for us.
Deputy Premier and Minister for Transportation and Works, Honourable Kye Rymer, attended Seatrade, and this morning he will give us an update on what the delegation was able to achieve for our tourism sector at this conference.
The delegation was able to secure a very positive outcome for the Virgin Islands at Seatrade, and I want to commend the team for their hard work. Minister Rymer will give us the good news shortly.
Overall, the recovery of the Virgin Islands’ tourism industry – first from the impacts of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 and the COVID-19 Global Pandemic which started in 2022 – continues to progress well.
This is very encouraging for the BVI economy, our tourism related businesses and all our stakeholders. It also speaks to the commendable work done by multiple Departments and agencies – whether it is in managing our health response to COVID-19 or the logistics for the phased reopening of our boarders and rebooting of our tourism industry.
We do have a lot to be proud of and to be hopeful about looking forward.
As COVID-19 restrictions around the world are being lifted, the Virgin Islands has also gradually lifted our travel restrictions to welcome more and more guests back to our shores – to our hotels and properties, to our bars and restaurants, to our attractions and activities.
Recently, we announced an update to our protocols for entry into the Virgin Islands to allow partially and unvaccinated arriving travellers to start their vacations without going into quarantine if their arrival test is negative.
Undoubtedly, the last two years have proven to be quite a challenge for the tourism industry – not just for the Virgin Islands but globally. However, the BVI Tourist Board and Film Commission (BVITB) has been continuing to work diligently on improving our competitiveness in the global tourism market.
The BVITB has been focused on several areas of marketing and product development to ensure a brighter future outlook as the pandemic continues to ease its grip on world travel.
According to reports from the Central Statistics Office, the BVI saw increases of 13 and 23 times the number of overnight visitors in January and February of 2022 respectively, when compared to the same period in 2021, which reflected the first few months after our December 2020 reopening for international visitors.
While these figures may represent only 40 percent of our numbers for the same period in 2020, which was the period just preceding the emergence of the pandemic and just before the necessary measures to mitigate against the spread of the virus in our community, it demonstrates the tremendous strides we have made as we continued our phased opening of the BVI to ensure the safety of visitors and residents alike.
Additionally, we have welcomed 138,694 cruise visitors through February 2022, since reopening for cruise visitors last year and witnessing the rejuvenation of this sector.
We also welcomed the reopening of many hotels and villas and the expansion of our yacht charter industry as we cater to the growing demand from guests arriving over the coming months. Most notable are the reopening of landmark properties in North Sound, Saba Rock and the Bitter End Yacht Club and the opening of our newest marina at Blunder Bay as the start of a major resort development.
The yachting sector has remained strong and welcomed to its ranks Waypoint Yacht Charters, and rebounding to host the 49th BVI Spring Regatta, which was a major success.
I would like to salute our hardworking staff at the BVITB as they have worked tirelessly even through the pandemic, to market the destination and develop new products and services.
They have continued to strategically market the destination, at first virtually and from mid last year with a number of in-person activations.
Innovative marketing campaigns such as “Find Yourself in the BVI” - inviting visitors after months of stressful lockdowns and travel plans to find themselves once again, in the BVI, and “Something to Celebrate” - inviting visitors to celebrate their deferred celebrations and their “freedom” to travel once again, in the BVI”, have underpinned the drive and numerous activations by the BVITB, to tell the world that the BVI is ready and open to welcome visitors to the Territory with BVILOVE.
And I wish to take a moment to re-emphasise this. The BVI is open for business. We are open for tourism. We are a safe destination. We have reasonable but effective COVID-19 protocols, so visitors can feel very comfortable.
The BVI is also an excellent destination for digital nomads who are looking for a safe and enjoyable place to temporarily live while they work remotely in their regular jobs.
For those persons who may be new to the term digital nomads, these are persons who, because of the nature of their jobs, are able to work from anywhere in the world once they have internet connection. And they tend to travel the world, spending time and exploring different countries before moving on to a new destination.
Recently through a partnership with the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), I am advised, the BVI has been listed on the Airbnb’s ‘Live and Work Anywhere’ platform, which was launched last week. The platform is a one-stop-shop for remote workers and is aimed at helping them to connect with new destinations and helping the tourism industries in those destinations to recover from the impacts of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, our teams in North America and the United Kingdom have remained active bringing travel advisors, journalists and social media influencers on familiarization trips to the Virgin Islands to see first-hand that the BVI remains a prime leisure destination and the Sailing Capital of the World.
Since our tourism reopening in December 2020, we welcomed 15 journalists representing over 14 publications - including Travel + Leisure, Coastal Living, USA Today, Travel Pulse, Harpers Bazar, Telegraph Travel, The Daily Telegraph and Forbes Magazine, and over 15 travel advisors.
Our teams in collaboration with our tourism industry partners TIPs have attended dive shows, boat shows, wedding and honeymoon shows and shows for the meetings, incentives, conventions and events (MICE); most notably, the Progressive New England Boat Show; the New York Times Travel Adventure Shows in Chicago, Washington DC, and New York and most recently, the 2022 Miami International Boat Show.
Additionally, our teams have hosted travel agent trainings, destination presentations and social events in their respective regions, all in an effort to drum up business for the Virgin Islands.
It is fair to say that the work of our teams in collaboration with TIPs has contributed immensely to the quick rebound of the BVI tourism industry.
Validation of the BVI as a top travel destination comes not only from journalists and travel agents, but is also seen in the many accolades through which our destination has received special recognition.
Just to name a few of these accolades: USA Today 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards 2022, recognized the iconic Soggy Dollar Bar and Hendo’s Hideout in Jost Van Dyke among the top Caribbean Beach Bars, in 2nd and 3rd place respectively. The landmark Baths National Park on Virgin Gorda was number 7 in the Best Caribbean Attraction category, and Callwood’s Rum Distillery in Cane Garden Bay took 8th place for the Best Caribbean Rum Distillery.
U.S. News & World Report has named the BVI the number one Best Place to Visit in the Caribbean" for three consecutive years (2017-2019) and Number Two in 2021-2022.
Our loyal visitors will have an opportunity to name the BVI as the best “Country” or “Island” at the upcoming Condé Nast Traveler 2022 U.S and U.K. Readers' Choice Awards. Individual Tourism Industry Partners are annually nominated among the top "Hotels & Resorts".
Last year, two of our resorts were voted among the top 40 Caribbean Resorts with the legendary Rosewood Little Dix Bay taking the top prize.
The BVI Tourist Board has been proceeding with great enthusiasm to market Destination BVI through the use of attractive and appealing imagery, and innovative competitions aimed at enticing prospective guests to travel to the Territory.
The BVITB recently completed a destination photoshoot, which will result in fresh and appealing new imagery that targets the younger US and European traveller.
On the culmination of the marketing campaign, “Something to Celebrate”, the BVITB launched a competition that yielded 13,473 entries. This competition was a celebration of BVI ambassadors through a series of interviews entitled, “BVI Celebration Ambassadors”.
Entrants were required to say something about what they missed out on during the pandemic and what lifetime event they would celebrate in the BVI.
In an industry that is ever evolving, the need for a new innovative website was a priority.
One month ago, the BVITB launched its brand-new website. Visitors to the site now enjoy enhanced features, which assist them in thoroughly planning their visit by allowing them to save the businesses they would like to patronise using the site’s geo-marketing capabilities.
If you have not yet checked the new website out, I urge you to do so by going to www.bvitourism.com. Go and check it out. Share the website with your social media, relatives, friends and business contacts. Help us to get the word out that the BVI is the best destination to visit and we are open to visitors.
In our relentless quest to remain the destination of choice, the BVITB has designed a three-year strategic marketing plan that utilizes a vibrant marketing mix engaging all aspects of the Destination to ensure that we remain top-of-mind.
Of course, a very critical part of all of this is our tourism product. It is important to have a product that engages the visitor and invites them to immerse themselves in a BVI experience of their choosing.
The Government of the Virgin Islands has been busy working in this area too. The BVITB is always looking at ways to improve the visitor experience and adding value to their visit.
We have 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, the respective part of the Virgin Islands story.
Most recently, we have completed 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.
Currently the signs are being painted by local artists depicting historical and cultural scenes that resonate with the unique character of each island.
At this time, I would like to recognize our industry partners without whom we would not have a product. They have been able to operate in very difficult circumstances.
Destination Management is another key focus of the BVITB, where the Product Team liaises with various Government agencies, NGOs and industry partners.
The team members are the interceptors to proactively make certain our guests have an outstanding vacation experience.
One vital focal point remains customer service training for the industry.
The 2022 customer service training model ‘R to the 3rd Power’ (R3), encourages 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’.
A strategic target group for 2022 is small and micro businesses.
The BVITB Standards and Training Team is committed to conducting one-on-one in-house training for these businesses, as a number of persons often cannot attend trainings because they are the only one present in the business.
To-date over 200 persons from Government offices, primary, secondary and thirty schools, mom and pop business, hotels, restaurants, taxi professionals, churches, and youth groups, all have benefited from the training sessions.
Participants were delighted to obtain a ‘Service Excellence Certificate’ from the BVITB, and to put their new knowledge to work in boosting their business.
I encourage businesses to make the most of these free sessions. Contact the BVITB Standards and Training Team to register.
As you can see, a lot of work has been taking place in the tourism sector, especially with promotion of the BVI as a destination. A lot has been achieved, especially in terms of the recovery of the industry and the positive exposure from the various awards programmes.
These efforts are bearing fruit and we have good reason to be optimistic and hopeful looking ahead, especially for our property owners, taxi and tour operators, restaurants and other service providers.
With the assistance of the Junior Minister of Tourism, Honourable Alvera Maduro Caines, and the work of the Tourist Board and our industry partners, we will continue to thrive as a destination. And things are even more encouraging when we factor in the positive news that Minister Rymer has to share with us.
I thank you. May God bless these beautiful Virgin Islands.
I now turn over to Minister Rymer for his update.