VI. Tourism Commissioner Joseph Boschulte testifies during the budget hearing on Wednesday. (Photo by Barry Leerdam, VI Legislature)
Tourism Commissioner Joseph Boschulte on Wednesday defended the suspension of the department’s five sales and marketing representative positions outside the territory.
The five positions represent less than $ 500,000 of the proposed 2022 fiscal year budget of nearly $ 26 million.
During Wednesday’s Senate Finance Committee hearing, Senator Kurt Vialet asked department officials how they know their investment is profitable and whether there were more tourists coming from the three states the staff lived in.
Despite criticism from the committee, Boschulte said there was “method to madness” and that the staff – two in California, one in New York, and two more in Georgia – were essential to the department’s marketing strategy and assistance with the Airlift.
“We have three direct flights a day from Atlanta, four on Saturdays, to St. Thomas. We have one a day to St. Croix. So when we fight our competition with the airlines, part of the fight is, ‘What are you going to do to help us occupy the seats?’ And when we tell them that we have active bodies every day that put corpses on these seats, then the conversation with the airlines is different. “
According to Boschulte, seating capacity in St. Thomas rose by 60 percent in winter and 70 percent in summer, while seating capacity in St. Croix rose by 40 percent in winter and 10 percent in summer.
The department renewed, increased service, or signed new contracts with multiple airlines coming to St. Thomas, Boschulte said, listing American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, Spirit Airlines, JetBlue Airways, and Sun Country Airlines. He added that St. Croix has seen increased service from both American Airlines and Delta Air Lines.
Occupying the seats on these flights is part of the job of the sales and marketing employee, said Boschulte, and functions overall as a “machine”.
“There is a set number of calls they have to make each month. Calls to travel agencies, calls to industry specialists. They go out, they regularly help promote the area when we market an event, ”said Boschulte. “If you look around and these flights are full, they are not full because everyone is saying, ‘Hey, I want to go to St. Thomas or St. Croix.’ They are full because we are actively promoting the destination so that people can make the decision to say, ‘I’m going to buy this ticket.’ ”
Vialet said it is the job of the Senate, especially the Finance Committee, to justify exactly what the Virgin Islands government spends money on. He added that the Senate wants to ensure that all individuals hired on behalf of the U.S. Virgin Islands and working on behalf of the U.S. Virgin Islands do what they are instructed to do.
Boschulte assured committee members that the staff were doing their job well, so well that other Caribbean destinations asked about the department’s overall success.
“We are currently aiming to find out how the USVI can have so much traffic and so much airlift in the middle of a pandemic and still keep our numbers (COVID-19 cases) low,” said Boschulte. “It’s proof for all of us and our strategies, it didn’t just happen.”
Sens. Marvin Blyden, Samuel Carrion, Dwayne DeGraff, Donna Frett-Gregory, Janelle Sarauw and Kurt Vialet attended the hearing. Sens. Javan James Sr. was absent. Other non-committee members were also present at the hearing.