Governor John de Jongh talks about developments in the US Virgin IslandsListen /
The United States Virgin Islands are beginning to see an improvement in its economy since the 2008 global economic crisis.
Governor John de Jongh says historically, the Virgin Islands have always lagged behind the US by about six months in terms of when the disposable income comes back.
John de Jongh: But we've been fortunate in that our hotels are still getting fairly good rates, we still have high occupancy that's taking place, and also our tourism industry has a combination of both overnight guests and cruise ship guests, and we're an attractive port with respect to cruise ships. So we've seen a consistency in our traffic taking place and we've been very fortunate to maintain our airlift even at a time when there's consolidations taking place and the low-fare carriers are looking at other jurisdictions. So, overall for us, our economy is beginning to stabilize; we're beginning to see some increasing in spending and we also have several hotel projects that are on the drawing board and couple major renovations that are taking place both within hotel properties but also vacation rentals and vacation ownership properties, so we're beginning to see that rebound slowly and we're very much tied as a US territory to the US economy and primarily to the eastern shoreboard of the US economy but slowly we're beginning to expand both south and to south-west to diversify our market a little better.
Donn Bobb: Besides tourism, what other areas of economic development one can find in the US Virgin Islands?
John de Jongh: Well, we've been able to diversify in that respect. Historically, the oil refinery was one of our major industries but that closed in January of 2012. What we're beginning to find is that we have two programmes that have been very attractive: our economic development programme in attracting businesses. We have about 82 beneficiaries in the programme and we've seen an uptick in applications in the last several years, and that's primarily what we call designated service businesses: asset managers, financial managers. We're a jurisdiction, even though we're a US jurisdiction, we only have one level of taxation so that they find extremely attractive. In addition to that we have a research and technology park and that research and technology park is able to offer benefits of 15 years, again one level of taxation that these businesses and primarily that's knowledge-based: software, publishing, web publishing, online loans, online analytics and we've seen both those increase. In fact, around the end of May I'll be dedicating a research and technology park on the island of St Croix which will open up that venue for us. It's in conjunction with our university. And then our economic development programme has been extremely robust whereby we've actually been able to start small business incubator programmes to one attract businesses but also to nurture home-grown business. So the combination of both is really helping us to diversify our economy.
Donn Bobb: The talk these days is about sustainable tourism. How much of a role is the US Virgin Islands playing in that, making sure it lasts?
John de Jongh: A tremendous amount. I mean it's a sensitivity that we have developed over a period of time because our focus primarily as a community of about 115,000 people on four islands, even though we attract over two million guests a year, we're not a generator so we have to come up with adaptor strategies more than anything else. And our focus has been on sensitivities towards our coral reefs, which we've actually won awards for, in terms of making sure that our development protects that, we're going towards renewable energies and we've put in place programmes that allows our businesses to make the shift …of use towards renewable energies and alternative energies. And also as a government we put in centres in place to be able to do that. Not only because of the cost but also because of our sensitivity towards the environment, beach erosion actually impacts on our wildlife, everything else, that's something we're very sensitive too so we began to develop those policies across government as a policy and work with the private sector to put in place.
Donn Bobb: To the East and South of the US Virgin Islands, there's a group of islands, Caribbean islands – CARICOM – What sort of relationship does the US Virgin Islands have with CARICOM?
John de Jongh: Well, I have been, particularly my administration, we've been very sensitive that we begin to look more towards our Caribbean neighbours in terms of both opportunities, both because of our political affiliations in some respect, our family relationships, and what we've done is we've reached out a number of those countries, both CARICOM but also the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States. I actually signed an observer status agreement with the OECS that allows us to be more active. And we've actually done our reach programme to the various countries to basically say that we're a US territory within the Caribbean, let's have a relationship where we can help each other because I believe, and it's one that we believe, particularly when it comes to tourism and travel, that the growth of the Caribbean only comes for all of us if we can market the Caribbean as a destination that is attractive to a universe of individuals, that you can go to various islands and have different experiences but you're still within the Caribbean. And as part of that strategy I've outreached a number of the other countries to just introduce ourselves and also to build up partnership.