For the U.S. Virgin Islands, the news that the three major seasonal festivals — already feeling the impact of budget cuts from last year — will be faced with additional cuts in fiscal year 2015 is cause for concern. The combination of two years of reduced budgets and the lingering effects of some unpredictable events in 2013 could affect the territory’s tourism industry.
Tourism in the U.S. Virgin Islands accounts for almost 80 percent of the territory’s GDP and employment, and with St. Thomas Carnival and other festivals regularly yielding $65 million in economic activity, festival organizers are puzzled by the reluctance to spend the money necessary to make the event a success. To provide the events and services that support a tourist economy, organizers say, the Governor will need to allocate more funds for festival committees. They voiced their concerns at a hearing in August before the 30th Legislature’s Committee on Finance.
The festivals each face specific problems of their own. While St. Croix’s Christiansted Mini Village continues to be a popular and well-attended festival each year, organizers are dealing with the impact of a number of misfortunes as of late. Prior to the allocation of funds for 2014, the festival had already contracted with some vendors. As a result of those funds being cut by more than $100,000 since 2013, some of those vendors still haven’t been paid.
Additionally, last year’s visitors missed out on some key performances due to heavy rains. Because funds had already been paid to these performers, organizers lost significant money and missed out on potential income when they had to cancel the events. The proposed budget cuts for fiscal year 2015 have organizers debating the merits of a single-day food festival in place of the Mini Village.
Meanwhile, St. Thomas’ Carnival has been experiencing declining revenues that have resulted from a decrease in attendance at paid events, although it seems those attendees have simply migrated to the free events. Carnival’s version of the bad weather that troubled the festivities on St. Croix turned out to be the theft of all of its electrical wiring, which will need to be replaced. Unfortunately, this added cost puts Carnival organizers’ request at $700,000, far above the Governor’s proposed budget of $500,000 — already a substantial reduction from the current fiscal year’s allotment.
As festival organizers attempt to formulate plans in light of the latest round of budget cuts, the territorial government has its own suggestions. Sen. Clifford Graham, Finance Committee Chair for the 30th Legislature, recommended the festival committees meet with various government agencies to establish uniformity and fairness related to paying fees and issuing permits. Despite hearing from all of the festival committees, the budget meeting did not result in any votes taking place that might provide hope to festival organizers, residents or tourists in the coming months.
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