Norwegian Escape in St. Thomas

The U.S. Virgin Islands is advancing plans to improve its visitor experience for cruise ship passengers, according to a prepared statement following the recent meeting a local task force.

Following a meeting of the Ports of the Virgin Islands - Charlotte Amalie Task Force, U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Kenneth E. Mapp said: "We are competing in a changing, dynamic environment and are in need of a complete shake-up of our business models. We need to develop not only what people want today, but also anticipate their future needs. The key is to respond to visitors even before they realize what they need. That's what this task force is all about."

A deadline to establish a harbor transportation service in the Charlotte Amalie Harbor had been extended to June 23, 2017, because of the strong interest of the potential contract, and because of the high volume of inquiries and questions the Department had handled, including site visits by prospective bidders, said a statement.

Task force members agreed, according to a press release, with the need for the RFP process to allow for multiple operators, possibly operating vessels of varying sizes, and that the contract period should be extended beyond three years in light of the capital investment required.

The evaluation and selection process is now expected to be complete by the end of August, contract execution by the end of October, and service possibly implemented by the end of the year.

Discussions also focused on the importance of dredging the Charlotte Amalie Harbor to accommodate larger class vessels and raising the $12 million investment funding for this project.

Commissioner of Tourism Beverly Nicholson-Doty noted positive recent meetings with Carnival Corporation and MSC Cruises.

The task force proposed the establishment of a berthing committee to optimize the use of all five berths on St. Thomas. They also proposed the need for improving communication with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and congressional officials to secure additional officers for seaports and airports.

A similar task force is being developed for the island of St. Croix and will launch in the fall.