Social contributor – Dickson Igwe

In the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and the floods of September 2017, strategic economic planning for the Virgin Islands is no longer an option. Strategic, medium, and long term economic planning is the single route to development and prosperity for the Virgin Islands.

Strategic economic planning will link immediate disaster recovery efforts with a long term vision for the territory. The plan will present citizens with a narrative of short, medium, and long term economic development: a powerful document that is transparent and accountable. A strategic economic plan will become a platform for great governance today and tomorrow. 

Now, this Old Boy sat with a fellow Old boy from the same alma mater in the UK, at the bar, at Pussers Road Town, one fine evening in Virgin Islands Paradise. Both men, after a cold drink, ambled to a Taste of India a few yards away, for some exquisite Asian cuisine.

It was a beautiful night, with a full moon that illuminated the sky, throwing a glowing and wonderful blue light over the islands. Road Town – which has greatly improved since the September tragedies- enjoyed a picture perfect dusk. This was the very meaning of Utopia: surreal.

Pussers was unusually empty, apart from two or three customers. This Writers Friend, a local hotelier whose business was destroyed by Irma, put it down to the Post Disaster Recession. ‘’ My associates in the hotel business tell me business is very slow right now. I do not see a light at the end of the tunnel presently,’’ he stated.

He asserted that: ‘’ high end tourism is the way ahead. Guests who overnight and spend any length of time in the territory are the type of visitor we should be focusing on. Cruise ship passengers are not big spenders. They have all they need on the cruise ship.  The one thing the British Virgin Islands have to offer is beautiful geography. Virgin Gorda has got it right, and so has Jost Van Dyke. Tortola is going in the wrong direction.’’ He added.

‘’Overnight visitors to the Virgin Islands are the critical spoke in the tourism wheel. These guests are the travelers who spend the cash that drives the rest of the economy. That is why they are termed high end Dickson.’’ OK. This Older Boy was getting it.

He went on: ‘’They recline and sleep on board chartered yachts, occupy rooms at small hotels and villas, lounge at various resorts that sit on the coasts and shorelines, and spend a lot of time ambling about the various villages of the archipelago. They sail, swim, hike, run, cycle, eat at seaside restaurants, and enjoy the beautiful idyll that is the Virgin Islands. ‘’

Bitter End yacht Club. Photo courtesy

Then he made a point that was very revealing to this Village Square Tinker: ‘’ the geography of the Virgin Islands is unique, and especially created for discerning and adventurous types. Virgin Islands tourism especially, attracts the high end visitor. These are guests who are interested in sustainability, and experiencing life in a pristine ecosystem.’’

‘’Visitors to the Virgin Islands want to fully appreciate a wonderful sunset, a magical blue moon, seas fully illuminated by a starry night, the gentle lapping of waves on to a white sand beach, the sounds of palm fronds, and the slap and snap of tree branches, as the sea breeze races through mangrove, bush, thicket, and foliage, sitting on the hills, in valleys, and the coastal plain. They want to simply ‘’chill,’’ walk a long beach, and eat a sumptuous dinner of Anegada Lobster to a lively fungi band.’’    

‘’These tourists are not interested in the mundane buildings of Road Town, and the unnecessary traffic and congestion caused by a senseless love affair with the motor vehicle’’ he sang. ‘’They would rather ride a bicycle, or take a long walk along the coastal roads that surround the islands, smelling the salt from the sea, and listening to the waves, while observing the awesome views of surrounding islets and islands.’’

Yours truly listened intently to the businessman. He sang on: ‘’the important thing right now is to clean up the island. High end visitors spend exponentially more cash on hotels, restaurants, taxis, and car rentals, than cruise passengers.

The high end visitor who spends up to a fortnight in the territory keeps the waiter in a job, the hotels in business, and taxis and car rentals busy. He charters yachts, and ensures the boat yards and marinas are fruitfully occupied. He ambles into supermarkets, and various businesses the cruise ship passengers never visit.’’

He stated that the internet was a critical avenue for the tourism industry. And from his forays into trip advisor, he feared it was only a matter of time before the Virgin Islands was labeled as a mainly cruise destination, which would deter the more discerning and high end traveler from visiting. This Traveler thought him a bit of a ‘’snob,’’ but the man clearly knew what he was talking about. 

OK a strategic 5-20 year strategic economic plan that ensures tourism remains a high quality high value product that caters to the higher end of the market must also facilitate lower spending travelers.

The plan should ensure the following: make safe, secure, green, clean, pristine, and wholesome, part of the core narrative of a 10 -20 year Virgin Islands economic plan. Then a strategic plan must focus on high end tourism.

It will further ensure optimal connections to hub airports in the region: St Thomas, St Martin, Puerto Rico, Antigua, with a local airline; it will enable and empower citizens to become bread and breakfast hosts through the Air BnB model of ensuring high quality fully air-conditioned accommodations in private homes that will bring hundreds of extra rooms into the hospitality market; it should ensure late night ferries from Charlotte Amalie, and place a customs and immigration reception desk, and office, at Cyril E King with swift links to ferry services to West End and Road Town.

The preceding should be part of the future vision of a tourism El Dorado embedded in a 5-20 year strategic economic plan.