BASSETERRE, St Kitts (CUOPM) -- The US Virgin Islands (USVI) Commissioner of Tourism, Beverly Nicholson-Doty, who was elected the new CTO chairperson last Wednesday night at the CTO’s Annual General Meeting in St Kitts, is taking over the regional organization at a time when the USVI had fewer visitors and more empty hotel rooms during the first six months of 2012 than in 2011.
According to data released last week by the VI Bureau of Economic Research, which tracks airline and cruise ship passenger arrivals, as well as hotel occupancy rates, on a monthly basis, the figures for April, May and June of this year were released last week after delays caused by conflicting data and untimely reporting by some hotels.
The total number of visitors to the territory fell slightly between 2011 and 2012, with 1,564,706 visitors in the first six months of 2011 and 1,547,883 visitors in the first six months of 2012 - a drop of 16,823 visitors, or about 1 percent.
The average visitor to the USVI -- including cruise ship and airline passengers -- spent about $396 in 2010, the most recent year for which the Bureau of Economic Research provides data.
Based on that figure, the drop in visitors in the first half of 2012 cost the territory an estimated $6.6 million in tourist spending.
Hotel occupancy was off more sharply than the number of visitors, with an average occupancy rate of 57.37 percent in the first six months of 2011 compared with 53.45 percent in 2012, a decrease of about 4 percent.
If the rate for 2012 remains at that level for the rest of the year, it will be the weakest year on record since at least 2000, according to bureau data. The lowest annual hotel occupancy rate for the territory since 2000 was in 2009, when it was 54.8 percent.
Lisa Hamilton, president of the VI Hotel and Tourism Association, said the association attributes the dip in occupancy rates to an unusually warm winter in the northeastern United States.
Hamilton said the association canvassed other Caribbean tourism agencies and most other islands reported less hotel demand between January and April 2012 because of the warm weather.
"Let's hope for a cold northeast winter in 2013," Hamilton said.
However, the data show May, too, was a particularly slow month compared with 2011, with the total number of visitors to the territory down by 14 percent and the total hotel occupancy rate down 8 percent year-over-year.
Weak numbers in May and June helped reverse an upward trend in tourism reported by the Bureau of Economic Research in May 2012. In that report, the bureau said the number of visitors during the first six months of fiscal year 2012 -- which covers October 2011 through March 2012 -- was up 3.6 percent over the same period in 2011.
Hamilton pointed out that behind the overall decrease in May and June are two contrasting trends. In those two months, the number of air visitor arrivals grew by about 20 percent year-over-year, while the number of cruise ship visitors dropped by 25 percent.
Hamilton said the VI Hotel and Tourism Association is engaged in a marketing initiative to drive traffic to its partners' websites, as well as a $400,000-a-year newspaper advertising campaign similarly focused on increasing web traffic.
She said the VI Tourism Department, despite a small budget, also has been helpful in offering promotions during slow season. She said the VI government needs to allocate additional money from the General Fund to the department's marketing budget, which currently comes only from a 10 percent room tax paid by hotel customers.