It’s been about six months since the U.S. Virgin Islands were devastated by a pair of Category 5 hurricanes. Some sense of normalcy is finally returning to the Territory—services are back up and running, businesses and homes are rebuilding, and tourists have begun coming back to the U.S. Virgin Islands.
In fact, some airlines are even preparing to launch new flights to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Spirit Airlines, for example, announced that it would begin providing a brand new nonstop flight between Fort Lauderdale and St. Croix running three times a week (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays).
The U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism also announced Spirit along with Delta Air Lines and JetBlue Airways would be expanding its services to St. Thomas, and that in April, United Airlines will resume its services to St. Thomas from cities including Houston, Texas; Washington, D.C. and Newark, New Jersey.
Challenges with accommodations
Still, it will be a long time before the Territory is able to truly return to normal. The hurricanes did a tremendous amount of damage to the islands.
While tourists are starting to come back to the territory, flights are still far below their levels at this time in 2017. St. Thomas is down about 50 percent in flight capacity, and St. Croix’s flight levels are about 15 percent below where they were at this point last year.
The tourists that have been coming back to the Virgin Islands have been having some difficulty finding accommodations. Many of the larger hotels are still closed and awaiting repairs. The lack of available accommodations has wide-reaching effects on the tourism industry, including the Territory’s ability to collect hotel occupancy taxes, as well as the various activities and adventures offered primarily to tourists. The taxi industry and other vendors have also suffered, as there have been significantly fewer visitors so far in 2018.
The U.S. Virgin Islands has been hit perhaps the hardest by the significant decrease in cruise ships arrivals to the Territory since the hurricanes. There’s expected to be a drop off of 30 percent of cruise ship visits to the area. It will be some time before cruise ship visits begin to stabilize and reach their figures before the hurricanes hit, and there’s no denying the economic impact that has on the Territory. These cruise ships are packed with tourists who flood the islands’ restaurants, bars, shops and activities.
Leadership in the tourism industry remains positive about the growth and recovery efforts after the hurricanes, but everyone understands there is still a long way to go.
For more information about recovery efforts and the outlook for your business in 2018, contact a trusted corporate planning attorney in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Tom Bolt is Managing Attorney of BoltNagi PC, a full service law firm in St. Thomas U.S. Virgin Islands.