April 1, 2014
Swimming Could Help Spur US Virgin Islands Tourism Industry
Creating a national sports policy for the Virgin Islands has been in the news lately, with the Senate Committee on Culture, Historic Preservation, Youth and Recreation holding hearings about the topic on both St. Thomas and St. Croix in recent weeks.
Sen. Myron Jackson, committee chairman, is drafting a bill to be vetted that would create a policy to help sports move forward in the territory.
Swimming should be an integral part of a national sports policy in the Virgin Islands. Let's face it, we are surrounded by water. No matter what happens in the Virgin Islands, we have to travel places and are transported either on the water or over it. In most areas of the Virgin Islands, we are never more than a few minutes from either the Caribbean Sea or the Atlantic Ocean. It's common sense that we should embrace our island's innate gifts, and swimming in the Virgin Islands is one of them.
Swimming is an ideal sport to attract tourism to the Virgin Islands. Currently, the Virgin Islands hosts the annual Beach to Beach Power Swim on St. John and the annual St. Croix Coral Reef Swim. These are both ocean swims that attract many hundreds of people to the Virgin Islands. Although we take advantage of our beautiful seas and year-round climate in order to host these two events, we do not have the facilities necessary to host larger swimming events, such as the Caribbean Free Trade Association Swimming Championships (CARIFTA), the Caribbean Island Swimming Championships (CISC), and the Central American and Caribbean Swimming Championships (CCCAN). We need to leverage our great weather conditions and our centralized location. Swimming at the heart of sports tourism would help battle financial seasonality, as many of the major swimming events take place during our off-season.
Jamaica hosted the 2013 CARIFTA Championships last year, and more than 800 athletes from 16 countries descended upon the island to compete. These athletes were accompanied by their families, coaches, supporters and members of the media. This influx of visitors not only boosted Jamaica's economy and the hotel and service industry, but their national reputation for hosting such events as well. Since 1999, Jamaica, Barbados, Aruba and the Bahamas have been the only hosts of the yearly CARIFTA Championships. We already have a variety of quality hotels and a well-rounded telecommunications system in place. It's time for the Virgin Islands to start dedicating the funds needed to make sure we have the sporting infrastructure to be included in the mix.
When the Virgin Islands institutes a national sports policy, swimming should be at the front of the discussion. With swimming an essential component of the national sports policy, the view that the world has of the Virgin Islands would be measurably enhanced. We will be seen as a great sports tourism destination. Investing in bigger and better swimming facilities will attract more tourism, and help the Virgin Islands dive into a recession-resistant and improved culture.
- John Klein is the president of the Virgin Islands Swimming Federation and the vice president of the St. Thomas Swimming Association. He is a long-term resident of the Virgin Islands and has been a long distance swimmer for decades. His email address is JKleinVISF@gmail.com.