Travel Agent recently met with British Virgin Islands (BVI) Director of Tourism Sharon Flax-Brutus and Junior Minister for Tourism Hon. Shereen Flax-Charles at the “Taste of Food Fete” event in Gramercy Park during Caribbean Week New York. The event was designed to get travelers excited for this November’s Food Fete in the BVI, but it also offered the opportunity to share more about the recovery of the destination.
By the end of 2018, many top resorts throughout the territory reopened after comprehensive restorations; these include Anegada Beach Club, which launched brand-new glamping accommodations last year, Guana Island, which expanded its organic farm, and Cooper Island Beach Club. Additionally: Scrub Island Resort, Spa & Marina reopened with six new villas; Sir Richard Branson’s Necker Island reopened with private plunge pools added to each individual house; Oil Nut Bay debuted Bay Suites in December; Eustatia Island, a private island that holds up to 16 guests, opened in December; and Sugar Mill Hotel also reopened in December with a brand-new beach restaurant and bar.
On the horizon, Rosewood Little Dix Bay, a luxury resort on Virgin Gorda, is set to reopen in late 2019; it will retain a limited number of buildings to stick with its original minimalist appearance. Bitter End Yacht Club will likely open its marina in winter, followed by the full resort in early 2020. The resort spent the last 20 months cleaning up, removing over 100 structures and remediating 64 acres; now, the property is in the process of being rebuilt.
Also slated to open in 2019 will be Norman Island, an environmentally conscious, luxury tourist destination. The island will offer a restaurant, a floating pool, a beach bar and a water sports center, as well as space for three 20- to 30-room hotels, boat slips, a spa and a 75- to 100-person residence.
Overall, the destination has about 50 to 60 percent of its hotel stock available, Flax-Charles tells Travel Agent.
Flax-Brutus added, “Because we're a luxury destination, after the storms, it created some opportunity for them to enhance their product. We found that some of them decided to just stay closed a little longer and build a little differently, because we now have to build for resilience. So, the larger properties are the ones that took a little longer to come back. But we're quite excited.”
The same goes for the villa stock: Many of the larger properties (such as the five- and six-bedroom villas) are taking their time to reopen.
With that said, we’re told that visitor reaction thus far has been “awesome.”
“To be honest, most of the villas have been filled—as soon as they're ready they've been filled,” Flax Charles says. “So, we're looking forward to great things for the upcoming season.”
Like many other destinations in the Caribbean, the British Virgin Islands has seen an increase in “voluntourism” since the hurricanes.
Travelers have “wanted to come back because they have a loyalty to the destinations so they've been helping us to rebuild, not even just from a revenue standpoint, but in terms of helping us in cleaning up our beaches and helping us with infrastructure,” Flax-Brutus says, adding a group was in the BVI when we spoke, helping rebuild a church.
The BVI Tourist Board also operates the Seeds of Love program, which replants trees on the island. They’ve currently replanted 6,000 and have their sights set on another three to five thousand by the end of the year.
Travelers visit on a regular basis to go out with the Seeds of Love team to help plant trees, we’re told. “And they love that,” Flax-Charles says.
Arrivals—for both “voluntourism” efforts and vacationing—have surprised the BVI team. The arrivals for March were 88 percent of what they were in the same month before the hurricanes—and that’s with roughly half of the accommodations available. So, despite the lower arrival numbers, it actually paints a very positive picture.
The same goes for cruise arrivals, which are currently at 80 percent of where the BVI was before the storms.
“That’s a huge milestone, given the severity of the storms,” Flax-Brutus tells Travel Agent. She, additionally commended the visitors for helping the islands recover at the pace it has. “Their faith in the destination and the product is what helped us to be where we are.”
Since the BVI doesn’t have direct flights to the U.S., Flax-Brutus says her team is working with the smaller, local carriers, such as InterCaribbean Airways, Cape Air and Seaborne Airlines. She adds that InterCaribbean will be adding flights to the BVI from St. Kitts and Barbados, and that American Airlines just announced nonstop service from Dallas to St. Kitts.
And since the event was “Taste of Food Fete,” we would be remiss not to talk more about the BVI’s top culinary event of the year. The actual Food Fete takes place throughout the entire month of November, with each weekend’s events being hosted on a different island with a different culinary theme.
The first weekend is a Taste of Tortola; followed by Jost Pork & More, held on Jost Van Dyke; Taste of Virgin Gorda; and the Anegada Lobster Festival. “There's going to be lots to do in November in the British Virgin Islands and the events move all around the territory,” Flax-Charles says. “We are looking forward to a banner year for that event and, especially, the Lobster Fest.”
To get an idea of what the Food Fete does for the destination: Last year, we’re told, 3,000 people visited Anegada for the Lobster Festival. Usually, the island has a population of about 300. It also serves as a way to share what’s available on the island, as chefs highlight local ingredients.
“When people come to the BVI, they don't have to buy a T-shirt or souvenir, but they have to eat, so we want to ensure that there's quality meals and that you have a diverse cuisine,” Flax-Charles says.
Flax-Brutus adds, “We find that the traveler now, yes, they want to have a good meal but they want to eat where we eat. They want to know, ‘What's your favorite restaurant? What's your favorite beverage?’” And the Food Fete offers them the opportunity to share their local food and drink.
Other events in the BVI include Christmas in July (July 27), the 65th anniversary celebration of emancipation in the territory (which lasts 13 days from late July into early August), and New Year’s, when thousands come from all over to party on Jost Van Dyke.
No matter what you’re looking for, the British Virgin Islands will likely have something for you.
“The luxury of coming to the BVI is being away from everything,” Flax-Charles says. “I like to say that, for us in the BVI, luxury is not a price point; it's the experience. And everybody's luxury is a little bit different. For me, it might be an empty beach, and for someone else, it might be a hotel where you have all the creature comforts, and for someone else, it's just to be able to not hear honking horns.”
Continue to stay tuned to www.travelagentcentral.com to learn more about the British Virgin Islands and hotel reopenings.