Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. on Thursday said community spread of the novel coronavirus has been effectively “eliminated” in the territory — and sets the stage for tourists to return next week.
With the territory’s positive cases plateauing at 69 for weeks — indeed, 500 consecutive tests resulting in zero positive cases — Bryan said his team his confident that a new “Open Doors” policy starting Monday, in which hotel reservations and leisure travel will resume, is sound.
“We’re going to make it easier for people to enjoy vacations and come to the Virgin Islands once again,” Bryan said at a Government House press briefing on St. Croix.
The governor assured listeners that air travel to the territory will still be about 15% less than normal, and cruise ships will remain docked through at least August.
“You will not see any drastic increase in our tourism numbers overnight,” Bryan said. “Rest assured that it’s going to take a while for that to ramp back up.”
He added that “no mask, no service” guidelines will still be enforced — diners at bars and restaurants, which opened Tuesday, are exempt — and temperature-screening cameras will be installed at both airports.
While reopening the territory will likely worry those residents concerned of a rebound in positive cases, it will also start to fill, however slowly, the giant financial hole incurred by the local tourism industry over the last few months.
At a recent Senate hearing, V.I. Tourism Commissioner Joseph Boschulte told lawmakers that the tourism industry, prior to the shutdown in March, was seeing a significant increase in hotel occupancy and cruise line bookings.
Indeed, he said 2020 started out as a “banner year” for the territory.
“[However], during the pandemic, we have lost more than 90% of our tourism revenue with no cruise calls and negligible hotel occupancies,” he said. “Best estimates on the total economic loss for the tourism sector over the past two-and-a-half months is about $250 million.”