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U.S. Virgin Islands A Tourism Rebound Story In Caribbean — But Delta Variant A Threat

 U.S. Virgin Islands Tourism Commissioner Joseph Boschulte speaking at the Capital Grille in Miami while holding a microphone
Tim Padgett
/
WLRN.org
U.S. Virgin Islands Tourism Commissioner Joseph Boschulte speaking at the Capital Grille in Miami on Friday.

Economic and vaccination links to the U.S. have helped the U.S. Virgin Islands critical tourism sector recover robustly — but it now faces COVID's delta threat.

The Caribbean relies heavily on tourism. The COVID-19 pandemic — and the disappearance of cruise ship travelers — have hit the islands’ economies especially hard.

But one Caribbean destination that’s bounced back more robustly is the U.S. Virgin Islands, or USVI: St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John and 50 other minor isles.

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That’s in no small part because the U.S. island territory has had access to U.S.-supplied vaccines and economic relief. Those factors — plus the USVI’s testing, vaccination and mask-wearing requirements for visitors — have given the territory a more COVID-safe image.

“For us in the USVI, people in the hospitality industry seem to be vaccinated at a higher rate than the rest of the community, which of course helps our tourism product because people don’t go on vacation to get sick,” said Joseph Boschulte, the U.S. Virgin Islands tourism commissioner, in an interview with WLRN.

Boschulte was in Miami over the weekend partly to address the COVID virus’ delta variant and how it challenges the U.S. Virgin Islands’ ability to safely retain the non-cruise-ship tourism that had been growing strongly this year, raising St. Croix's hotel occupancy to 90% recently.

“The situation is fluid," Boschulte conceded. "With the new information we’re receiving, we’re very concerned that we don’t get complacent — because as important as protecting public health, we also have to keep the islands alive.”

Because of the delta surge in the Caribbean and the U.S. — which Boschulte said has raised the daily number of new cases in the U.S. Virgin Islands in recent weeks — USVI Governor Albert Bryan Jr. has ordered schools there to open virtually this month and not in person.