By Mellica McPherson-Ganda
“No, I will not throw in the gloves,” BVI Leader, Premier Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith told reporters as he expressed hope that despite the fact that many of the businesses that make up the BVI tourism product took a hit from hurricane Irma and Maria, the Territory will open for business soon.
Tourism contributes to over 30 percent of the BVI Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and also employs one in every three persons in the Territory. Therefore it is understandable how hurricane Irma which pummeled the Territory on 6 September resulted in major damage to many tourism properties has resulted in unemployment for many.
Among the damaged properties are: Scrub Island Resort, Peter Island Resort and Spa, Anegada Reef Hotel, Sugar Mill Hotel (reportedly still hoping to open October 14), The Island Last Resort, Ivan’s Stress Free Bar, Soggy Dollar Bar, One Love, Gertrudes Beach Bar, various businesses on White Bay Jost Van Dyke, Foxy’s Tamarind Bar, Foxy’s Taboo, Willy T’s Floating Bar, Moskito Island, and Necker Island.
In fact, the horrible effect of the disaster was tied up nicely by Junior Minister for Tourism Hon. Archibald Christian who announced during the 5 October House of Assembly sitting that hurricane Irma dealt the BVI this massive blow when the Territory was on a tourism peak and all of the industry figures were climbing high.
This current situation prompted reporters to question the BVI Premier about the short and medium term plan Government has for the second pillar of the BVI economy. The Premier was asked what the devastation of the various hospitality businesses means for the 2017/2018 tourism season that officially commences in November.
While responding to the question Hon. Smith noted that there are several aspects of the tourism industry and he noted that Government is looking at each of the branches of tourism to assess the situation fully.
Previously it was noted that cruise arrivals in the BVI rebounded significantly by some 43% following the opening of the Tortola Pier Park facilities and the signing of berthing agreements with Disney and Norwegian Cruise Lines.
Now while looking at the glass half full the Premier said that there is a reasonable expectation that cruise ships may visit the post Irma BVI soon. “When we looked at the cruise industry we observed that the cruise dock was not really damaged and therefore from that point of view there is no reason why the ships cannot come, but then we have to look at what we have to offer our visitors,” Hon. Smith announced.
The Premier explained that the speedy return of cruise ships to the territory will also depend on how quickly all residents join hands with Government and other efforts to clean up the Territory. “This is why we want all people in the BVI, all business all the community to help clean up the BVI…clean up the roads and so on…Then we can be able to receive visitors and cruise visitors when they are ready to come we are hoping that this can start before the end of the year.”
The BVI Leader said the return of cruise ships to the Territory is something the Government will have to discuss with the cruiselines, and he said that these discussions are being done between the cruiselines and the Minister for Communications and Works, Hon. Mark Vanterpool.
In March this year Premier Smith announced that the yachting sector was doing well and that the Government and the Tourist Board were positioning the BVI to become the yachting capital of the world.
Irma, however, has stalled the plan for now. It was stated that the sector is pushing to return to business quickly. In fact the Premier said that he has had talks with industry operators.
”In the yachting sector we know that there has been significant damage, but we have spoken to individuals in that sector and they are eager to get back in business and some have told me that certainly by December they intend to start business again. What is important for the yachting sector is that they need sufficient attractions in the BVI…for when people come on holiday.”
In order to foster visitors experience Premier Smith said that he has been speaking to some of the various visitors sites such as Norman Island in the hope of having those sites back and running so that when visitors come on the yachts they will have the same experience that they had previously.
Premier Smith echoed that there is a silver lining, even though Irma battered a number of hotels such as Long Bay Hotel on Tortola. The Premier expressed optimism that the sector will begin to pick up shortly.
While Dr. Smith admitted that there will be a loss in the hotel sector because of damages suffered by places like Leverick Bay. The BVI Leader explained that on Tortola, Peter Island and Virgin Gorda a substantial amount of the room occupation for guests is in villas and as a result he explained that these villas can be rebuilt quickly. “I believe that most of these villas have been insured and should be able to get back on their feet much more quickly than the large hotels.
Hon. Smith said “While I can see immediate loss… I am optimistic and I believe that we can work together…” Nonetheless the Premier said that he will have discussions with the hotel sector to see how quickly accommodation in the BVI will get back up.
Another Knock for Virgin Gorda
In the recent past the tourism product of the sister island of Virgin Gorda suffered a blow with the announced closures of Rosewood Little Dix Bay, Biras Creek Resort and YCCS. Now Irma has damaged the Bitter End Yacht Club, Oil Nut Bay, Rosewood Little Dix Bay which was preparing to reopen; as well as Saba Rock.
Virgin Gorda was already experiencing employment issues as a result of the previous closures. In fact, Ninth District Representative, Dr. the Hon. Hubert O’Neal announced in his 2017 New Year’s address that many of his constituents did not have a good Christmas. Unfortunately now that Irma has struck and December is weeks away, it is unclear how merry this year’s holidays would be for the residents of Virgin Gorda.