Cruz Bay (pictured), the main town on St. John
Combine the beauty of the tropics -- windswept beaches, whispering palms, sun, surf, and sand -- with the conveniences of domestic travel, and you have the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI). This is certainly a selling point for Lynne McNamara, owner of Meetings Plus Events of South Kingstown, RI.
"The fact that the USVI is a U.S. territory greatly eases the arrivals and departures for groups," she says. "When you look out on the water, you see other mountainous islands, which is very different. You don't usually get a view like this in the Caribbean."
Championship golf courses, top-rated beaches, stunning turquoise waters, and memorable activities are a few of the features that make the USVI a popular site for meetings and incentives. Add to that the ideal year-round tropical climate with temperatures that stay around the 80s, with a gentle breeze. With direct service from major gateways and no passport required for U.S. citizens, getting to the USVI is hassle-free.
Phillip Shannon, president of St. Thomas-based Caribbean Tour Services, a destination management company operating on all three U.S. Virgin Islands, says there are many advantages to being a U.S. territory, including clean water and FDA food standards. "Plus, you can go out and enjoy the destination day or night," he explains. "For an island that's 13 miles long and four miles wide, St. Thomas is really diverse. We have more activities than any other Caribbean destination, and island hopping is really popular."
Both traditional and unusual experiences in the USVI can be organized for memorable off-site activities, including golfing at the George and Tom Fazio designed Mahogany Run golf course in St. Thomas, "Bush Lady" tours at the St. George Village Botanical Garden in St. Croix, and hikes along some 20-plus trails in the Virgin Islands National Park on St. John.
Shoppers in the group will like that each U.S. visitor can take up to $1,600 worth of duty-free imports into the U.S. every 30 days. That's double the $800 allowed for other Caribbean countries.
"Procrastination Pays Off" is the name of a rewards program in place for 2015 meetings and incentives. Rewards include airport transfers and USVI welcome bags, a cooking class, a St. John day trip with free transfers, snorkeling, swimming, and an island tour.
"The Department of Tourism is committed to the meetings and incentive travel industry, and this new promotion will showcase the value of the Virgin Islands to that community," says Commissioner of Tourism Beverly Nicholson-Doty. "Procrastination Pays Off is a creative way to allow planners to book last-minute meetings in the territory, which will go a long way to realizing our vision of the USVI as a go-to destination for group travel."
Each of the three major USVI islands -- St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix -- offers particular benefits to planners.
DINE - Oceana Restaurant
Not only is the cuisine here superb, but so is the setting. The restaurant is set in the old Russian Consulate Great House on the water's edge at historical Villa Olga in Frenchtown. Stylish and elegant, Oceana Restaurant's menu is impressive and features local seafood and produce.
PLAY - Tree Limin' Extreme
The Virgin Islands' first zipline adventure, Tree Limin' Extreme, includes six ziplines, two sky bridges, acres of jungle, and some of the most amazing views on St. Thomas. Adrenaline junkies will appreciate the "yo-yo" zip, the only of its kind in the Caribbean, that takes the zip liner to the far end of the line where they then yo-yo back to the middle.
MEET - Villa Botanica at Plantation Crown
Unforgettable meetings and events can be hosted in this open-air venue that is set on a five-acre historical plantation estate and botanical garden overlooking Charlotte Amalie Harbor. The property features a historic sugar mill, waterfall, and tropical gardens.
ESSENTIAL Tool Box
CONVENTION CENTERS & FACILITIES
St. Thomas: Frenchman's Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort (60,000 sf); Dreams Sugar Bay St. Thomas (16,560 sf); The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas (10,000 sf); St. John: Caneel Bay (12,693 sf); Westin St. John Resort & Villas (13,500 sf); St Croix: Renaissance St. Croix Carambola Beach Resort & Spa (12,670 sf); The Buccaneer (2,000 sf)
Pinnacle Awards Go To:
• Marriott Frenchman's Reef & Morning Star Beach Resort
St. Thomas, the most cosmopolitan of the islands, has the bustle of a major city, with shopping, golf, restaurants, and nightlife -- as well as lush mountains, tranquil bays, and white-sand beaches.
It's also known as "Rock City" for its mountainous terrain, so don't be surprised if you catch a glimpse of a lizard or medium-sized iguana that make their homes here and roam freely outdoors. One of the most impressive properties on St. Thomas is the 180-room Ritz-Carlton with over 10,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting and function space offering stunning views of Great Bay and St. John. This 30-acre, secluded luxury resort estate has a spa, four oceanfront dining facilities, a fitness center, and a 53-foot luxury catamaran.
The 478-room Frenchman's Reef Marriott Resort features sweeping views of Charlotte Amalie Harbor and offers easy access to the secluded Morning Star Beach. There is more than 60,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting and event space here.
The 294-room Dream's Sugar Bay is an all-inclusive property with 16,560 square feet of meeting space. AMResorts recently took over the property and renovations are underway.
There is no better way to get to St. John from St. Thomas than aboard a catamaran, a must in any incentive program, according to McNamara. An added surprise during a snorkeling adventure is catching a glimpse of one of the sea turtles that frequent the area.
Plantation ruins and pristine beaches dot St. John, two-thirds of which is protected by the National Park Service. The island is 20 minutes from St. Thomas by ferry, and its Trunk Bay is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, with coral sands, turquoise water, and a 225-yard-long Underwater Trail of reefs waiting to be discovered.
Caneel Bay Resort, with 170 acres and seven beaches within the Virgin Islands National Park, is a popular resort for meeting and incentive groups. After 50 years of gracing the island of St. John, this resort remains true to founder Laurance Rockefeller's original vision. The property boasts low-key luxury, attentive service, and the deliberate absence of digital distractions. There are 166 rooms and 5,593 square feet of indoor and 7,100 square feet of outdoor event space.
Another option on St. John is the Westin St. John Resort with a 10,000-square-foot conference center and 3,500-square-foot ballroom, and outdoor space. Located in the Cruz Bay area of the island, the Westin has a beautiful beach, freshwater pools, water sports, restaurants, and tennis courts.
The largest of the USVI, St. Croix is fringed with white-sand beaches, and features gentle hills, turquoise waters, and historic towns. St. Croix has sugar cane plantations and rum distilleries that offer a glimpse into both the past and the present of the Virgin Islands.
Family-owned and operated since 1948, The Buccaneer has 138 rooms on 340 tropical acres that include three beaches, a challenging seaside golf course, eight tennis courts, and a water sports center.
The 150-room Renaissance St. Croix Carambola Beach Resort & Spa is tucked away on a secluded stretch of beach, surrounded by lush green mountains on one side and the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean ocean on the other. There is 12,670 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space here, including eight meeting rooms.
Questions or comments? Email [email protected]
This article appears in the July 2015 issue of Successful Meetings.