A year after two devastating hurricanes swept the territory, life in the U.S. Virgin Islands has mostly returned to normal – mostly. Visitors are returning on cruise ships and to stay in V.I. hotels. But half of the territory’s hotel rooms remain out of operation, which has held down visitation and tourism revenues. (Note: through the end of July 2018 air arrivals to the USVI were down 49.5% compared with the same period of 2017 and cruise visitor arrivals were down 20.4% during the same period).
The good news is many hotels are open and more are reopening every month. But many big ones are still closed.
– St. Thomas’ largest hotel, the Marriott Frenchman’s Reef, whose 479 rooms comprise a quarter of all St. Thomas hotel rooms, is closed and will be closed in 2019. They hope to reopen early in 2020.
– Sugar Bay Resort and Spa has 150 of its 300 rooms open for relief workers only. Its owners are trying to sell and there is no projected reopening date for regular guests. The Carlton Group is managing the sale. A Carlton Group news release about the sale says “ownership is highly motivated to make a deal and is offering the property at well below replacement cost.”
“Based on reasonable assumptions, inclusive of a full renovation of the property, you will have an all-in basis of under $150k per key which will provide you with a huge profit upon stabilization,” the announcement reads. For 300 rooms, that suggests a price in the neighborhood of $45 million.
Both of St. John’s largest hotels are still closed: the Westin St. John Resort Villas with 252 rooms and Caneel Bay Resort with 166 rooms. The Westin is scheduled to reopen in January. Caneel Bay, which is inside the federal V.I. National Park, is in limbo while Congress considers legislation to grant the owners a long-term lease.
St. Croix’s two biggest hotels are also out of operation. Divi Carina Bay Resort, St. Croix’s largest resort, with 192 rooms, expects to reopen sometime in 2019. Carambola, St. Croix’s second largest with 151 rooms, does not yet have a projected opening date. The hotel is owned by the territory’s pension system, which aims to sell it.
The largest fully operational hotel on St. Thomas is the Margaritaville Wyndham Hotel Club, with 175 rooms. Frenchman’s Cove with 150 rooms is also open.
The St. Thomas Great Bay Ritz Carlton is not operating under the Ritz Carlton banner but the facility is open as Great Bay Resort, with 80 of its 180 rooms available.
On St. Croix, the largest open hotel is the Buccaneer, east of Christiansted, with 138 rooms. In the town of Christiansted, the Hotel Caravelle is open, with 44 rooms, and the Holger Dansk has 42. There are many smaller hotels open too.
According to the V.I. Hotel and Tourism Association, at the end of September 1,460 hotel rooms were operational in the territory among its membership, with 1,039 on St. Thomas and St. John and 421 on St. Croix.
By the 2019 tourism season that should rise to nearly 2,000: the VIHTA projects 1,465 rooms for St. Thomas-St. John and Divi Carina Bay Resort’s owners say they plan to reopen in the summer of 2019, adding 192 rooms on St. Croix.
Most, but not all V.I. hotels are in the VIHTA membership listings. For example, Grande Bay Resort is not listed one way or another but shows room availability on Hotels.com.
There are also a lot of Airbnb accommodations. Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty told senators in August there are 830 Airbnb listings in St. Thomas, 250 in St. John, and 350 in St. Croix. At that point, St. Thomas had received 10,200 visitors staying in Airbnb properties, St. John had received 2,200 guests, and 4,800 people had stayed in Airbnb locations on St. Croix. And there are other, non-Airbnb rentals.
(Note: Airbnb recently announced that bookings for its properties listed in the USVI were up 600% in 2018 compared to 2017).
But before the storms, the territory had around 4,500 hotel rooms and will remain well below that level for some time.
V.I. Hotel and Tourism Association listing of U.S. Virgin Islands hotels and their status at the beginning of October, 2018:
St. Thomas-St. John hotels open as of October 2018
– Frenchman’s Cove: open; 156 rooms.
– Margaritaville: open; 174 rooms.
– Great Bay Resort, formerly the Ritz Carlton: 80 are open now but not under the Ritz brand. The rest (180 rooms) are projected to open late 2019.
– Gallows Point: open; 60 rooms.
– Bolongo Bay: open; 60 rooms.
– Emerald Beach: open; 90 rooms.
– Lindberg Bay: open; 43 rooms.
– Mafolie Hotel: open; 20 rooms.
– Islandview Guesthouse: open; 9 rooms.
– Green Iguana: open; 9 rooms.
– Windward Passage: open but with limited services; 90 rooms.
– Secret Harbor: open; 69 rooms.
– Point Pleasant: open; 59 rooms.
St. Thomas-St. John hotels still closed as of October 2018
– Frenchman’s Reef: closed, projected to open in early 2020; 479 rooms.
– Sugar Bay: 150 rooms are open to relief workers only. No opening date yet; total 300 rooms.
– Caneel Bay: closed, no opening date projected; 166 rooms.
– Westin Resort: closed, projected to open January of 2019; 252 rooms.
– Island Beachcomber: closed; to be demolished.
– Ritz Carlton Club: closed, projected to open in November of 2018; 105 rooms.
– Elysian: closed, projected to open before the end of the year; 69 rooms.
– Bluebeard’s Beachclub: closed, projected to open by the end of 2019; 74 rooms.
– Bluebeard’s Castle: closed, projected to open in 2019; 82 rooms.
– Flamboyan: closed, projected to open in 2019; 37 rooms.
St. Croix hotels open as of October 2018
– The Buccaneer: open; 138 rooms.
– Arawak: open, 14 rooms.
– Holger Dansk: open; 42 rooms.
– Hotel Caravelle: open; 44 rooms.
– Sand Castle on the Beach: open; 21 rooms.
– Tamarind Beach: open; 39 rooms.
– The Palms at Pelican Cove: open; 40 rooms.
– The Fred: open; 11 rooms.
– Club Comanche: open; 23 rooms.
– Cottages by the Sea: open; 21 rooms.
– Inn on Strand Street: open; 28 rooms.
St. Croix hotels still closed as of October 2018
– Carambola: closed 151 rooms.
– Divi Carina Bay: closed, projected to re-open in 2019; 192 rooms.
Jim Hepple is an Assistant Professor at the University of Aruba and is Managing Director of Tourism Analytics.