Governor Albert Bryan Jr. (D) told the membership of the United States Virgin Islands Hotel & Tourism Association (VIHTA) that the USVI’s Tourism infrastructure is growing and improving so quickly that it is outpacing the territory’s workforce capabilities to handle the multitude of projects aimed at enhancing visitors’ experiences.
The Governor was addressing the VIHTA at its annual meeting on Tuesday, April 11, at the Ritz Carlton St. Thomas.
“We’re investing in our infrastructure. In every facet of our industry, we’re investing. And we are growing beyond leaps and bounds,” Governor Bryan said. “Tourism is 75% of our gross domestic product. That’s what we do. And if we’re going to do it, we want to do it right.”
The Governor ticked off a number of major tourism-related projects in various stages of completion, including:
- The 3P project for private stakeholders to upgrade and manage both the territory’s airports.
- Improvements to the US Customs process and renovating bathrooms at the ferry dock on St. John.
- Phase 2 of the St. Thomas Waterfront Revitalization project which is expected to begin later this year.
- The completed and improved Vendors Plaza.
- The renovation of the Fort on Water Island, which already has funding in place.
- New public bathrooms at the western end of Main Street on St. Thomas to complement the recently renovated public restrooms near Fort Christian.
- The development of an athletic complex in Nazareth on St. Thomas to help encourage Sports Tourism.
The Governor said there is another $150 million to $200 million on the line for the redevelopment of the Crown Bay, including the addition of another cruise ship pier there.
“We’ve all but abandoned our hopes to put a deep water pier up in Havensight. Politically it’s just not going to fly now. I think people have gotten used to the beautiful harbor, and they want to keep it that,” the Governor said, eliciting overwhelming applause.
He said that 700 more hotel rooms are expected to open in St. Thomas and St. John during the next two years, and the estimated revenue from hotel tax is $36 million in 2023 and $38 million in 2024.
“That money is being used to continue to better our product. But we want it to better your product, too,” Governor Bryan said. “It’s amazing what’s happening in the Virgin Islands, and it’s all happening at once.
The Governor said the territory has a serious workforce issue and that the challenge is going to be people, workforce development, and attracting and retaining the workers needed to successfully complete the numerous projects on the slate for the tourism sector.
“Linked to that problem is our housing issue. We don’t have workforce housing,” Governor Bryan said. “That’s a real challenge for us in terms of how do we attract people to the Virgin Islands and how are we able to make it affordable for them.”
The Governor asked the VIHTA members to work with the government to move people up the line so the territory is able to make room for more workers to come in at the bottom levels. He told the VIHTA membership to contact the Office of the Governor or the Department of Labor, and they would find the funding for whatever vocational training the businesses need to improve their products.
“If you need training resources or workforce development resources, the government is here to help,” Governor Bryan said. “We will figure out a way to get you that workforce development money that you need because it is so important. Quantity is good, but quality is better.”